As president of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Greg Lukianoff is no stranger to the trends on campus as evidenced by UC Berkeley’s Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ invitation to be “civil.” Greg has written a 9,000 word “broadside” entitled Freedom From Speech.
Eugene Volokh has been kind enough to offer some excerpts:
The increased calls for sensitivity-based censorship represent the dark side of what are otherwise several positive developments for human civilization. As I will explain in the next section, I believe that we are not passing through some temporary phase in which an out-of-touch and hypersensitive elite attempts — and often fails — to impose its speech-restrictive norms on society. It’s worse than that: people all over the globe are coming to expect emotional and intellectual comfort as though it were a right. This is precisely what you would expect when you train a generation to believe that they have a right not to be offended. Eventually, they stop demanding freedom of speech and start demanding freedom from speech.
The phrase “sensitivity-based censorship” strikes home, as has become glaringly clear from the demand under the guise of the right to express one’s opinion to be free from disagreement because it hurts someone’s feelings.
While Eugene offers some additional quotes from Greg’s book, I suggest that anyone interested in the issue spend the five bucks to get a copy.
One curiosity stemming from Eugene’s post is his reply to a commenter referring to “newspeak” from George Orwell’s 1984, suggesting that we are on the road to narrowing the range of thought by limiting the range of language necessary to express disfavored concepts. Eugene replies:
I’m telling you: It’s not happening today. Language is changing, as it always has; some of this change is being driven by people’s moral views, as it always has. No changes that I can see are narrowing the range of thought, nor destroying the literature of the past (except insofar as Chaucer, indeed, has been inaccessible to ordinary English speakers for centuries).
This is a very strong assertion, given the climate of political correctness that imposes rather harsh restrictions on the use of disfavored language. A commenter responding to Eugene offers this:
What I see happening is not so much the elimination of words as a trend toward redefining them in such expansive ways that they eventually lose any precision of meaning…which I think is no less destructive in terms of robbing language of its communicative powers.
This has been an issue discussed here many times, where words have become so disconnected from any definition and used so “expansively” as to lose their communicative powers. Is this just the natural change of language to reflect people’s “moral views,” or something more nefarious? Are these mutually exclusive?