Beginning with an editorial intro from USA Today this week:
“At Claremont McKenna College in California, protesters blocked the doors to a lecture hall preventing conservative author Heather Mac Donald from speaking. At Middlebury College in Vermont, a professor accompanying libertarian author Charles Murray was injured by an angry mob. At the University of California-Berkeley and its surrounding community, protests against scheduled speakers have turned ugly.”
Last week bitingly-sarcastic (and in my semi-humble opinion, sometimes both incredibly witty and incredibly rude) conservative commentator, Ann Coulter, was scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley. Coulter was invited by a nonpartisan, student organization. People protested. Violence was threatened. Berkeley attempted to postpone the event. Coulter eventually cancelled because of the rising intensity of security threats.
What has since ensued is a debate over free speech and the First Amendment on college campuses.
Again, from the USA Today editorial board:
“In just the place where the clash of ideas is most valuable, students are shutting themselves off to points of view they don’t agree with. At the moment when young minds are supposed to assess the strengths and weaknesses of arguments, they are answering challenges to their beliefs with anger and violence instead of facts and reason.”
USA Today does a good job in my opinion, moving this debate past the more simply-defined concept of the validity of free speech. This isn’t about free speech; it isn’t about what a person is not allowed to say.
It’s too avoidant to characterize the current college campus debate as questioning the right to individual verbal expression.
This dialogue is about an unwillingness to entertain opposing opinion.
I admit: entertaining opposing opinion is not the easiest to do. And so many who long ago left the college campus still struggle with said willingness.
So what’s happening on the college campus — which I assume includes some very smart people — seems an exaggerated manifestation of what we’re seeing on other societal avenues.
For some reason, a perceived growing number of people see the existence of opposing opinion as a threat. We can’t entertain it… we can’t listen to it… we can’t wrestle with any validity. We must resist any willingness to allow the opinion to exist. Here then, we see a stark contrast between intellect and wisdom… as a lot of bright people aren’t acting very wise.
I appreciate what Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in response. “Let her speak… If you don’t like it, don’t show up.” Note that Warren is no fan of Coulter’s, but knows the wisdom in allowing opposing opinion to exist.
In fact, perhaps what I appreciate most about this debate is the common ground crossing all societal, political lines. Warren, Bernie Sanders… Coulter… all seemingly hailing from a bit of the radical, political fringe… from the left and the right…
The polar-opposite, ideological, political fringe agreed.
Said Sanders, “I don’t like this. I don’t like it. Obviously Ann Coulter’s outrageous ― to my mind, off the wall. But you know, people have a right to give their two cents-worth, give a speech, without fear of violence and intimidation.”
Exactly. This isn’t about free speech. This is about silencing those with whom one disagrees.
When we advocate for silencing, we simultaneously sacrifice wisdom.
We sacrifice wisdom when we are no longer willing to wrestle with the validity of opposing opinion.