In her new book The Silencing—great title, incidentally—Kirsten Powers calls out her fellow liberals for their decidedly illiberal practices toward the exercise of free speech.
Efforts to shut down free speech, to create a climate of groupthink are coming from the academic left, from leftist radicals. They come from a left that was defined by radicals like Saul Alinsky and that gave us Barack Obama.
In an excerpt from her book for The Daily Beast, Powers writes:
The root of nearly every free-speech infringement on campuses across the country is that someone—almost always a liberal—has been offended or has sniffed out a potential offense in the making. Then, the silencing campaign begins. The offender must be punished, not just for justice’s sake, but also to send the message to anyone else on campus that should he or she stray off the leftist script, they too might find themselves investigated, harassed, ostracized, or even expelled. If the illiberal left can preemptively silence opposing speakers or opposing groups— such as getting a speech or event canceled, or denying campus recognition for a group—even better.
Beyond the fact that this paragraph sorely needs an editor, Powers is correct to show the extent to which leftist academics have imposed an ideology on college campuses. Or better, as Powers says, they have shut down dissent and have forced everyone to follow their script. There is no marketplace of ideas on many of the best college campuses today.
Liberals like Powers are appalled because these activities are discrediting liberalism. They might even be playing a role in the slow-motion disintegration of the Democratic Party.
Radical leftists are marching behind the banner of sensitivity. They are saying that certain oppressed groups are so beaten down and so thin-skinned that they do not know how to deal with the least offense—i.e. microaggressions.
They call for sensitivity, but they use violent methods that remind us of Ernst Rohm’s Brown Shirts and Maoist truth squads.
When someone deviates from the party line, he is attacked, vilified, harassed, condemned, ostracized and expelled. This pertains especially if he is a privileged white male.
The thought police will not even accept that someone might have made a mistake. The least, even unintended transgression becomes a crime against humanity, one that needs to be punished mercilessly.
These radicals are masters of rhetorical hyperbole: all offenses, from bad language to wrong ideas are equivalent to the Holocaust. Or else, a man who touches a woman inappropriately is labelled a rapist.
In truth, the ambient culture is not very much better. A politician who leans right and who says the wrong thing will be routinely excoriated, even to the extent of being driven from politics.
Well before the current administration, the long knives came out to attack Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas because one Anita Hill testified that he had made some inappropriate, grossly sexual remarks
Of course, when Bill Clinton was credibly accused of sexual harassment and even rape, the same thought police gave him a pass.
Justice, such as it is, was anything but blind.
Here, Powers describes the atmosphere on college campuses:
This Orwellian climate of intimidation and fear chills free speech and thought. On college campuses it is particularly insidious. Higher education should provide an environment to test new ideas, debate theories, encounter challenging information, and figure out what one believes. Campuses should be places where students are able to make mistakes without fear of retribution. If there is no margin for error, it is impossible to receive a meaningful education.
The radical left has created a hostile learning environment. Perhaps this is yet another reason why so many students today are concentrating in STEM subjects and hard science.
The situation Powers describes pertains, of course, to the university as a whole, but it is more prevalent in the Humanities and social sciences.
Obviously, universities should teach ideas, theories and information, but I am far from convinced that those who are teaching Humanities courses today are capable of doing so. I suspect that they obsess about offense in order to cover up the fact that they do not know their disciplines well enough to teach them. And of course, even in a time of massive grade inflation, many students are incapable of passing classes, even in education school.
Powers recounts one incident:
In November 2013, more than two dozen graduate students at UCLA entered the classroom of their professor and announced a protest against a “hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color.” The students had been the victims of racial “microaggression,” a term invented in the 1970s that has been recently repurposed as a silencing tactic. A common definition cited is that racial microaggressions “are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color.” Like all these new categories, literally anything can be a microaggression.
So what were the racial microaggressions that spawned the interruption of a class at the University of California at Los Angeles? One student alleged that when the professor changed her capitalization of the word “indigenous” to lowercase he was disrespecting her ideological point of view. Another proof point of racial animus was the professor’s insistence that the students use the Chicago Manual of Style for citation format (the protesting students preferred the less formal American Psychological Association manual). After trying to speak with one male student from his class, the kindly 79-year-old professor was accused of battery for reaching out to touch him. The professor, Val Rust, a widely respected scholar in the field of comparative education, was hung out to dry by the UCLA administration, which treated a professor’s stylistic changes to student papers as a racist attack. The school instructed Rust to stay off the Graduate School of Education and Information Services for one year.
Of course, Powers is not alone in condemning this radical agenda. Liberal lawyer Wendy Kaminer has been there before. Powers explains Kaminer’s idea:
In an article in the Atlantic, Wendy Kaminer—a lawyer and free-speech advocate—declared, “Academic freedom is declining. The belief that free speech rights don’t include the right to speak offensively is now firmly entrenched on campuses and enforced by repressive speech or harassment codes. Campus censors don’t generally riot in response to presumptively offensive speech, but they do steal newspapers containing articles they don’t like, vandalize displays they find offensive, and disrupt speeches they’d rather not hear. They insist that hate speech isn’t free speech and that people who indulge in it should be punished. No one should be surprised when a professor at an elite university calls for the arrest of ‘Sam Bacile’ [who made the YouTube video The Innocence of Muslims] while simultaneously claiming to value the First Amendment.”
Do you remember Sam Bacile?
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was trying to shift the blame for the attack on our consulate in Benghazi she conveniently chose to scapegoat Sam Bacile, aka Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.
When Sam Bacile was tossed in prison, no one, left or right, really cared.
Hillary Clinton went on to even more fame and fortune.
[Addendum: Powers has an essay on illiberal feminists in today's Daily Beast. Link here.]