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Censorship Is an ‘Unjustifiable Privilege’ by Chris Marchese

Free Speech Is about the Power to Challenge the Status Quo!

Free speech is the great equalizer in our society. It doesn’t matter about your race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, class — you get the point — the First Amendment protects your right to speak freely. Despite this, some student activists — perceiving unequal social conditions, including at institutions of higher education — are fighting for social change at the expense of free speech. The sad irony, however, is that free speech only becomes privileged when it’s restricted, which is why free speech must remain a right equally applicable to all.

To understand why, consider Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s commencement speech at Wellesley College in 2015. In it, she said, “You, because of your beautiful Wellesley degree, have become privileged, no matter your background.” But, she added, “Sometimes you will need to push [this privilege] aside in order to see clearly,” because “privilege blinds” you to those who are different.

Students calling for speech restrictions are particularly blinded by their privilege, which leaves them unable to see the unjust privilege that restricting speech would further confer upon them. This is dangerous and counterproductive to their cause.

Restricting Speech Is an Unjust Privilege

First, to support restrictions on certain kinds of speech, activists must have (or at least project) unwavering confidence in both themselves and the system in which they are operating — the university in this case — to discern what’s offensive. Even if they see gray areas in expression, they are forced to present issues in absolutist terms if they are to have the perceived moral authority to police and punish those who offend.

Turning again to Adichie’s speech, we can see why this is wrong. As she said, “I knew from … the class privilege I had of growing up in an educated family, that it sometimes blinded me, that I was not always as alert to the nuances of people who were different from me.”

Sometimes, people are genuinely racist (though what’s considered racist varies widely from place to place) and their speech is identifiable as such. But what about the student who isn’t aware of the offense he or she may cause by wearing a sombrero at a party, which some consider cultural appropriation? How about the student who is aware but disagrees that it’s offensive? Should he or she be censored and punished based upon some activists’ standards of right and wrong? Different people have different experiences and different views. Because of this, nuance matters.

Second, while it can be tempting to argue that free speech maintains inequality because it protects offensive speech, this argument fails to distinguish between people and their views. That is, when you censor people — even for offensive speech — you are denying them equal access to, and protection of, the First Amendment and you are doing so from a position of privilege.  The right to free speech gives everyone an equal right to voice his or her opinions — but it does not mean that such opinions will win or even register in any given forum.

Restrictions on free speech, on the other hand, make both people and ideas unequal by subjugating them to someone else’s understanding of what’s right and therefore allowable. Indeed, to assume one’s views are so infallible as to warrant imposition on others and to assume there is no legitimate debate left to be had on certain topics — and the language used in discussing those topics — is a privilege that oppresses not only the hated racist, but the honest dissenter and everyone in between.

Lastly, some students claim that free speech is about power — that it enables and sustains privilege for some but not all. Let’s be clear: free speech is about power. It’s about having the power to challenge the status quo, question society’s deeply held beliefs, and call others to task. But free speech only becomes privileged when it’s restricted.

Understanding the Would-Be Censors

Of course words can have consequences. (If they couldn’t, nobody would bother speaking.) It would be hypocritical to argue that offensive speech will never cause harm, at least to feelings or interests, while also maintaining that speech is so vital it requires robust protection. One could also argue that the marketplace of ideas — like all markets — has negative externalities. The most evident, as campus activists assert, is that offensive speech is protected and those it’s directed at — typically thought to be minorities — are disproportionately burdened by it.

Moreover, restricting or punishing speech provides instant gratification. It’s an immediate and swift response to views one finds abhorrent. It gives the impression that justice has been served. For those who believe society is stacked against them, it’s a small beacon of hope. Restricting speech, then, isn’t seen as infringing upon someone else’s liberty, but rather righting a wrong. The emotional appeal is understandably strong.

But this is not right.

A Just Alternative

The best way to counter hateful, offensive speech is with more speech. Think of it this way: restricting speech treats the symptoms of bigotry by making its manifestations less visible. Conversely, more speech acts as a cure by attacking the underlying disease. The former method may seem effective in the short term, but it’s dangerous in the long run.

As FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff has argued, when offensive speech is banned, it drives those with potentially dangerous views (however determined) underground, making them harder to identify, while also potentially making them more extreme. It also gives a false sense of social progress. And who ultimately pays the price? The people the bans were meant to help, when it turns out society wasn’t as friendly as they believed.

Countering hateful speech with more speech is not seamless. It’s hard work, and it’s not instant. It doesn’t guarantee the flushing of all bigoted and hateful opinions from society, and it often works slowly. Nevertheless, it is the only method that is both just and that makes progress last. Engaging with people who express views different from one’s own moves beyond the superficial to challenge core beliefs, assumptions, and biases — and can help a person identify and recognize his or her own. Consider the case of Megan and Grace Phelps, granddaughters of the pastor who founded the Westboro Baptist Church. After interacting with a Jewish man by email and on Twitter, the sisters decided their views were wrong and decided to leave the WBC, which also meant being excommunicated by their family.

The marketplace of ideas won’t always work this way, and not everyone is destined to see the light. But restricting speech is a privileged response that neither makes society more equal nor has any tangible benefit other than providing a false sense of justice, which, in the long term, only fuels underlying problems. We cannot afford to be blind to this reality.

None of this should be construed as a plea to accept the status quo or to disengage. Rather, it’s a call for college students who support restricting speech to recognize their own privilege. Education is a gift, and college students should use the privilege it confers to advocate for change. But this means realizing free speech is not the enemy of progress, and that restricting it will not make society more equal. To do otherwise — to restrict and punish speech — is to be so willfully blind to privilege as to become the oppressors.

This article first appeared at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Chris Marchese

Chris Marchese is a communications assistant at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Intolerance is a Virtue

Tolerance is a virtue and intolerance is hate, or so we are told. This ideology has led to the toleration of evil. After all, who wants to be a hater? Those who condemn the evil caused by the doctrine of political Islam are called intolerant and haters.

But we must realize that intolerance of evil is a virtue.

Things to be intolerant of: killing Christians and Yazidis in the Middle East and Africa; jihad of rape, inbreeding, child marriage and female genital mutilation.

To reduce human suffering, we must all become intolerant of evil.

The Paris Attack and the Famous French Whine – “We Need Tooooolerance”

Aside from the three Muslim men who perpetrated the deadliest terror attack in France since 1961, there are some other individuals complicit in the Wednesday massacre. They have names such as Hollande, Merkel, Löfven and Obama. Their connection to the act will largely go unnoticed and unapprehended — and they likely will never be held to account.

In the wake of the brutality at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, socialist French president Francois Hollande called for tolerance.

I call for intolerance.

The difference between us isn’t that, relatively speaking, I lack the quality. I have a lot of practice exercising tolerance because I have far more to tolerate — not the least of which is the political power and policies of people such as Hollande, Merkel, Löfven and Obama. The real difference is that I actually know what tolerance means.

Tolerance always implies a perceived negative. You wouldn’t have to tolerate a delectable meal or a beautiful car; you relish those things. But you would have to tolerate a stubborn cold, a painful rash or foul weather. So Tolerance Lesson One for Leftists:

If you say you’re tolerant of Muslims, it implies that you consider them a negative.

If you don’t — if instead you like them or just view them neutrally — tolerance doesn’t enter the equation.

Of course, not everything we perceive as negative actually is so. We may dislike broccoli, but tolerate it in order to avoid offending a host or for health reasons. In such cases, when the perceived negative is not objectively negative and there are good reasons to put up with it, tolerance can be a great exercise of virtue.

It also can be virtuous when dealing with an objective negative (ON), such as unjust imprisonment or a terminal illness, that you cannot remedy. Soldiering on nobly in such situations often builds great character and provides inspiration for others.

But what of when at issue is an ON that can be remedied? This brings us to Tolerance Lesson Two for Leftists:

The only virtue in this case lies in wiping the negative out.

Unlike when bearing up nobly in the face intractable ONs, tolerating those that could be eliminated renders one guilty of a failure of omission; it is dereliction of moral duty. An example would be a man who could prevent someone from habitually invading his home and endangering his family, but who fails to do so out of neglect, cowardice or in deference to twisted ideology. (This could, by the way, be viewed as a microcosm of something that perhaps, just maybe, we might want to start having an honest national discussion about.) Another example was when the Spaniards encountered the bloody-altar Aztecs in 16th-century Mexico; they didn’t say “Hey, tearing the hearts out of thousands of innocents while they’re still alive and hanging their body parts in the marketplace isn’t our thing, but we’re good multiculturalists and don’t impose values.” They were intolerant — and, thankfully, an intolerable Hades-born “religion” was vanquished.

Also note that since being neglectful, a coward or a twisted ideologue is an ON itself, it generally doesn’t engender respect. Remember that allowing the continued existence of remediable ONs sometimes amounts to a person letting himself be used as a doormat. And people wipe their feet on doormats. Of course, other times an individual won’t perceive the ON as a negative; noteworthy here is that ingested poison will kill you whether you recognize it as poison or not.

Many interesting lessons on tolerance could be learned from the Muslim world. Note that when pious Muslims perceive something as negative (this isn’t to imply that all their perceptions are accurate), they often stop at nothing to wipe it out. Just consider the tens of thousands of non-Muslims killed and thousands of churches burned by jihadists during the last decade, the enforcement of Sharia law, and the Muslim-conquered parts of European cities euphemistically known as no-go zones.

The leftist response to this Islamic chauvinism is well exemplified by the reaction to the 2014 “Trojan horse scandal,” involving the supplanting of Western curricula by Islamist doctrine in seven London schools. Critiquing one offending institution, British officials noted that pupils didn’t “learn about different faiths and cultures” and, critiquing another — and this is the money line — said that students “understanding of…mutual respect and tolerance…is underdeveloped.” “Ah, yes, these Muslims just need to be tolerant like us,” say the good leftists.

Talk about being dimmer than a 15-watt bulb in a North Korean night.

Since these Muslims view other faiths and cultures as inferior to their own, as negatives, they would have to be tolerant of them — if they didn’t think they could vanquish them. But because they’re making great headway on that front, they have no need to be tolerant.

You needn’t tolerate what you can terminate.

And they’re really just taking a leaf out of the left’s book. How tolerant are liberals, really? Remember again, the only test of tolerance is how well you abide things you dislike. And no one is more vicious in destroying perceived negatives than leftists. Just ask the people who’ve lost jobs for defending marriage or criticizing homosexual behavior, such as former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich or ex-Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran. Ask those punished under hate-speech laws or bitten by speech codes on college campuses. Ask the bakers and other Christian businessmen put out of business for refusing to be party to homosexual “weddings.” The reality is that when leftists hate something — and it is all emotion with them — they have no mercy. (Mind you, this is one reason liberals accuse conservatives of being “haters”; it’s projection. Governed by emotion, they only oppose what they despise, so they naturally view opposition as synonymous with hatred.)

So leftists’ calls for tolerance amount to a request that Muslims and others practice what leftists themselves merely preach. But if you consider their working definition of the word — confusing tolerance with affinity or indifference — there is an irony here: these secular fundamentalists have the same message the Islamic fundamentalists do:

Believe what we believe.

Like what we like.

Hate what we hate.

Become one with our collective.

And we can live in peace.

Secular and Islamic fundamentalists have something else in common. Both groups have many perceived negatives that aren’t actually objectively negative, so they try to wipe out the wrong things. Thus do they work together to destroy Christianity and Western civilization. And this is why I named as co-conspirators in the Paris attack Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel, Stefan Löfven and Barack Obama. But this brings me to my last Tolerance Lesson for Leftists, and I direct my words now specifically to leftists: There’s something else pious Muslims perceive as a negative, and it also happens to be something that is an objective negative.

You.

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