WK: And by, “the c-word,” you mean the word [c-word]?
–Transcript of “Challenging the Ideological Echo Chamber: Free Speech, Civil Discourse and the Liberal Arts’ in The Smith Sophian
Smith College Alumna, lawyer and FIRE Board of Advisors member Wendy Kaminer committed an “explicit act of racial violence” from her seat on the panel. No, she took no bludgeon and struck a person with it because of their color. She spoke a word.
She spoke a word. She did so to make a point, that the mere utterance of the word didn’t make the heavens part, the sky fall, plague descend or life as we know it end. Oh wait, the last did happen, which was pretty much Kaminer’s point.
The word she uttered was “nigger.” She is not the first to do so for this purpose.
The president of Smith College was subsequently attacked by social justice warriors for not immediately striking Kaminer down for her “explicit act of racial violence.” The students cried out at his failure to silence words they found disturbing.
“As a white person, and as the president of Smith College, it is your job to be an ally to all of the students at Smith. In allyship towards students of color, and in this case particularly black students, it is your responsibility to speak up when another white person says something racist…We need to recognize our privilege, and furthermore we need to use our privilege to shut down racism that we see occurring around us. If we do not actively fight racism, we are contributing to racial oppression…”
Harvey Silverglate, FIRE co-founder and Boston civil rights lawyer, called this the killing of liberal arts.
On campuses across the country, hostility toward unpopular ideas has become so irrational that many students, and some faculty members, now openly oppose freedom of speech. The hypersensitive consider the mere discussion of the topic of censorship to be potentially traumatic. Those who try to protect academic freedom and the ability of the academy to discuss the world as it is are swimming against the current. In such an atmosphere, liberal-arts education can’t survive.
While FIRE focuses on the campus, where fashionable trends are taught to impressionable young minds, it hardly limited to ivy covered buildings. Cries to cleanse the internet, today’s public square, of mean words are pervasive. While desks in classrooms are being replaced with fainting couches, militant demands are made of social media to silence hurtful expression.
One might call this “crazy,” but then, that too is out of bounds.
Clarification was evidently needed, considering that another c-word was also censored from the transcript:
Kathleen McCartney: … We’re just wild and [ableist slur], aren’t we?
That’s right, wild and crazy. It took my colleagues and me a moment to figure that one out (it is audible in the audio recording of the panel). Despite this word apparently being too offensive to reproduce in the transcript, it was spoken by all three of the other panelists besides Kaminer, in addition to President McCartney.
As words are taken off the table, the ability to express ideas, to challenge thought, to question, disappears with it. And that is the theoretical wrong to be righted. Eliminate the language of hate and prejudice, and there will no longer be hate and prejudice. It’s a sweet thought, but child-like. Hate and prejudice don’t require words to be felt.
And despite pretenses to the contrary, ability matters. As some wallow in hurt feelings, nothing gets done. Someone has to suffer the unpleasantness of doing the work of building things, whether society or structures. The people who do things while others whine about them create. Those who can’t, because it’s too painful, fail to contribute. At the end of they day, there is nothing to prove they existed. But their delicate feelings haven’t been hurt.
But more important than this simplistic “my feelings matter most” approach to the perfect world is the elevation of censorship in the name of good intentions to an Orwellian tipping point. I rarely use curses or epithets here out of choice, but my buddy Marc Randazza is curse central, not because he’s just coarse and vulgar, but because his philosophy is to throw such language in people’s faces to remind them that they’re just words. As with Kaminer, no one’s eyeballs melt from reading such harsh language.
We’ve ridiculed “trigger warnings,” yet another fashion trend to spare delicate sensibilities from the trauma of unpleasantness. In response, deeply emotional pleas are offered to understand that people have feelings, and their feelings are really hurt by ideas and words that offend or remind of bad things.
“We’re not talking about someone turning away from something they don’t want to see,” Ms. Loverin said in a recent interview. “People suddenly feel a very real threat to their safety — even if it is perceived. They are stuck in a classroom where they can’t get out, or if they do try to leave, it is suddenly going to be very public.”
A “very real threat to their safety” is the justification that permeates these demands. Not because there is any rational basis to believe their safety is threatened, but because that’s how they feel. Feelings. One can’t argue against feelings; we all have them and, reasonable or not, we’re entitled to them. But we cannot construct a society based on the most fragile teacup’s feelings without losing the thoughts and ideas of everyone else.
The discussion itself, to the extent it is a discussion, is mired in the distinction between thought and feelings. To advocate against censorship, against silencing unhappy thoughts, against the eradication of words that are too harsh for delicate minds, evokes attack as supporting hatred and prejudice. No, it’s not rational, but neither are those who make the attack.
Harvey warns, “Hypersensitivity to the trauma allegedly inflicted by listening to controversial ideas approaches a strange form of derangement—a disorder whose lethal spread in academia grows by the day.” How much of a conversation has to devolve into code words and euphemisms before advocates for censorship see the damage it is doing?
Harvey’s rhetorical question has an answer. They will never see the damage, as it would require the advocates for censorship to think rather than feel. We are watching the entitlement and self-indulgence give rise to the Age of Feeling, where unpleasant ideas are anathema and disagreement is hatred.
The only way this stops is for those who understand and appreciate the damage being done by social justice warriors, all with the best of intentions wrapped up in their feelings and visions of their Utopian society where only happiness exists, is refuse to be silenced, to be cowed by their ad hominem attacks, and reject the sensibility that the eradication of words and ideas will save us.
Trigger Warning: Graphic violence ahead
If a club comes down upon your head and bashes in your skull, you will be hurt. You will know pain. This is violence. No, merely hearing the word “nigger” is not violence, and the discomfort you may feel from the word is not, you whimpering, entitled, self-absorbed, sheltered twinkies, the same. The problem is that you’ve never known real pain, for no one who has could confuse it with the hurt feelings of harsh ideas.