As I've written a bunch of times, academia is horrendous and won't improve unless somehow people find a way to cut off all federal money to it. Chances of that happening are slim to none. Since my last English Manif post on the topic, in which I basically tell everyone to give up on higher ed, I have received more missives saying, "you can't say such things!" from conservatives who think that somehow if they are just even more groveling, desperate, and cloying, a few liberals will convince the rest of academia to treat us like human beings. Fat chance! I am reminded of a passage from the Book of Malachi, which I recently covered in my daily devotionals:
"Look, I am going to rebuke your descendants, and I will spread animal poo all over your face-the crap left over from your festival sacrifices-and you will be thrown out with the poo." --Malachi 2:3
As is often the case, the Word of God cuts to the point better than any human language could. From the campanile of Berkeley to the bus stops at the public commuter school, from the tea parlors of Vanderbilt to the desecrated cloisters of Catholic Fordham, the situation is the same. Academics have produced a lot of poo and God is surely getting ready to smear their faces with it.
It is for this reason that I decided, ultimately, that the departures of Carol Swain, John McAdams, and Tony Esolen from the academy might not be signs the devil is beating us. It might be God calling all His chosen favorites out of an academy that the Lord is fixing to smite. It's like Abraham fetching Lot and his family and telling them to rush out of Sodom before the sulfur clouds form overhead. How the judgment will fall on the academy, I don't know. I just know it's going to be as ugly as people having poo smeared in their faces and thrown on dung heaps like the trash they have become.
So given the Biblical scale of depravity that we're witnessing on college campuses, I have a huge confession to make. I am tired of people plugging "academic freedom" and "free speech on campus." The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a listicle of states in which conservatives have submitted free-speech bills to protect the first amendment on college campuses. Here's a general point of information about life: when the Chronicle is covering your ideas respectfully, you're getting played. They only pimp out proposals they know will keep the academy's gravy train of Democratic kickbacks and tenured tithing intact.
I want to state that I have the utmost respect for Campus Reform, College Fix, and FIRE, all organizations that live out their values. They really do stand up for free speech on campus and I mean them no disrespect.
But when in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one former free-speech enthusiast to call for a change in rhetoric even among his closest allies, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires him to explain the reasons for his decision. So here are my top ten reasons.
1. Nobody wants free speech for everyone so let's stop pretending that anyone really does.
At the same time that conservatives were furious over Ann Coulter's being denied a venue at UC Berkeley, they were also furious that Linda Sarsour was being given a platform in New York City. I would never equate Ann Coulter and Linda Sarsour, but neither would a liberal, who would delight at hearing the scarf-covered Sarsour sing odes to sharia but would consider Coulter's views on building a border wall the same thing as having sulfuric acid poured on their heads.
I am not endorsing the cock-eyed notion that speech can be dangerous and can cause harms en par with physical violence. So please do not classify me with the no-platformers in Berkeley who said they were acting in "self-defense" when they smashed bookstore windows in order to stop Milo from giving a speech. But I am saying, some people are straight-up crazy and there's nothing unusual about people choosing to opt out of listening. They can say what they want to say. In this day and age, they can even shout it over Twitter. But all of us have stuff we just don't want to listen to. It's not honest to pretend that we don't.
2. Our fight with the left isn't really about free speech, it's about the crazy stuff the left tells people.
Following from #1, we have to stop pretending that we think the left has legitimate viewpoints. They encompass the vast majority of professors, Hollywood celebrities, the civil service, lawyers, and people in the media. Large numbers of people can get together and convince each other of real stupidity like, "let's invade the Soviet Union while we are fighting a war with the United States!" They have masses on their side, but leftists believe a bunch of stuff that's absolutely insane. We have done everyone including the left a huge disservice by not just telling them, "you're completely wacko!" (I tried to start this with my book, Wackos Thugs & Perverts.)
The problem with focusing on free speech is that we never get around to telling the left what lunatics they are. Instead we go back and forth about we have a right to share our opinion, when that isn't really true. We don't have a right to share our opinion. We have a duty to tell the truth. We have an obligation to stop them from spreading their opinions, because they're kookoo.
For example, gay sex is unsanitary, unhealthy, and abnormal. Any objective observation of reality, any religious scripture, and any honest assessment of cultural history will attest to the fact that it is not clean, healthy, or normal for men to allow other men's private parts into the part of the body that expels feces. We won't get into details--if you want, consult this podcast with Paul Church--but suffice it to say, nothing the left says about LGBT makes sense when everything they say is based on the fanatical delusion that it's normal and healthy for men to traumatize each other's bowels for pleasure.
Of course I do not support being mean or violent to any human being created in the image of God. I also don't support describing human beings as "gay" as if their whole being is encapsulated in a sex act they wouldn't even be comfortable describing truthfully in public. But sodomy is what it is. Why are we asking for the "right" to "dissent" from the left on the issue of gay marriage, gay adoption, homosexuality, gay curriculum in high school, or gay curriculum in kindergarten? We're not dissenting. We're saying, please, stop telling people that something dirty and injurious is pleasant and charming and something they should rush out and do.
The problem with focusing so much on free speech is that we don't have any time left to get to the important stuff: why we're so right and the left is a bunch of kooks. They are lovable kooks, yes, because they are human and imperfect and make mistakes like all of us did when we were eight years old and knew nothing but what our parents told us. But if I have to choose how to engage the public square, and my choices are (1) spend five hours writing an article about why I have a universal right to share my opinion, and (2) spend five hours writing an article about why all humans are made in God's image and should follow the Bible's covenantal view on sexuality rather than the filth spewed by leftist kooks... I would prefer #2. Why waste time?
3. The debate on free-speech is so stale, it's amazing we don't see mold on our tongues when we talk about it.
Anybody who had a tense relationship with a family member knows this: There comes a time when you just don't go over the same debate anymore. I'm not saying "let's agree to disagree." I'm not saying anything. I'm moving on. I had a cousin who was convinced that I was a cowardly putz and not manly enough for his standards. Every time I spoke to him he went back to the same mockery, repeating the point that he'd seen all this cool underground stuff and I'd been sheltered from anything raw or real or violent. He'd been to jail and gotten involved in gangs. He died of a heroin overdose, God bless his soul. By the final years before he died I didn't respond when he started on his macho oneupmanship. I talked about the weather and asked him what video games he'd been playing recently.
The free-speech debate is getting to this point. Consider this daily tweeting ritual that Prof. Robert George displayed, to call attention to the harmful conduct on the part of Middlebury College:
50 DAYS ... 50 DAYS ... 50 DAYS ... still no one punished for mob violence and attack on academic freedom at Middlebury #remembermiddlebury https://t.co/OjOx0klPfn— Robert P. George (@McCormickProf) April 22, 2017
Middlebury College was caught up in a free-speech controversy because someone there invited a controversial writer from the American Enterprise Institute to speak, and protests got very violent. For fifty days, Prof. George tweeted an update about how nothing had gotten done. Perhaps his diligence and assiduity contributed to the final outcome, which appears a slap on the wrist for some students who incited the aggression on campus. But even so, the routine is so familiar people can forecast what will happen. This case will appear, on the surface "resolved," and then the next 7,000 cases of controversial speakers being mistreated will be re-litigated from square one. "He has free speech." "So do his protestors." "But this is a college where everyone should hear different views." "But colleges exist for students and they should be given proper examples to learn from." "But the First Amendment." "But the First Amendment just says you have a right to speak, not a right to a platform."
Please, please, people! This goes nowhere. Whenever I think of my cousin who never could give up his issue with my masculinity, I weep, because he died in his mid-thirties and there is so much I never got to say to him. It is clear, for sure, that the First Amendment is not an unchallengeable reference, given that it does not mandate that people listen to, respect, or bankroll other people's speech. So people have vastly different views of how much leeway is expected on campuses, they have each raised their points, and nothing new can be said on the topic. So let's use our time more wisely.
4. I am sick of feeding the egos of the Big Names in free-speech controversy.
As I stated earlier, I have deep respect for Campus Reform, College Fix, and FIRE, as well as some other free-speech watchdogs who have behaved with integrity.
But there are a lot of people who seem to pop up again and again, constantly being invited by Young Americans for Freedom or Young Americans for Liberty chapters, or by College Republicans. I don't have the time to investigate where the money comes from, to fund the countless chapters of these organizations, but by now it's obvious that they have a tight list of speakers they invite again and again. If it isn't Christina Hoff-Somers or Ben Shapiro, it's Milo or another generation of Milo--lately we're seeing Laura Kipnis and homocon du jour Chadwick Moore doing the rounds. I have nothing against these people but I would prefer it if I could engage their ideas and debate free speech without feeling as though someone is battering me with this tiny set of people. Even the best ideas start to wear on you if you feel like you have to hear about them all the time. Remember Annie Lennox's song "Ask"? Or "Dream On" by Aerosmith? Such are songs that make people think, "wow, that's so catchy!" Then after you hear them every two hours on the radio for nine weeks straight, you think, "not again."
At some point you start to think about all the brilliant people who know more about many of these topics, and who struggle in far more hostile scholarly conditions, who never get invited to college campuses. My friend Brittany Klein is an Orthodox Jewish woman whose mother was a lesbian who survived World War II Europe. She's got so much more to say on the topic of religious liberty and same-sex parenting than Ryan Anderson. But she isn't wined and dined and flown up to Dartmouth to give a speech, with or sans fanfare.
5. What's with the obsession with guest speakers?
While it worries me that liberals dominate the academy, the financial situation worries me more. Tuitions are too high and too many universities cloak their matriculation costs in "student fees," which go into the gigantic vortex of expensive administrative waste. One reason that homosexuality is so predominant on college campuses relates to these student fees. For some reason, pro-gay people are exquisitely skillful at kissing up to administrative bigwigs and getting people elected to student councils, so the gay association on any campus usually drowns in excess student activity fees.
I don't like the guest-speaker racket because it feeds the administrative bloat and corruption of these non-instructional components on universities. Campuses should not have food courts, climbing walls, spas, student unions, veterans resource centers, women's rooms, special-interest reading rooms, intramural sports, counseling centers, events planning, conferences, Title IX offices, investigators, gay clubs, LARPing clubs, chess clubs, archery clubs, camping clubs, a capella singing groups, or just about any of the nonsense they host and fund. This idea of the college campus as an alternative utopia where people go and rehearse a kind of life rhythm that makes no sense, turns them into lazy morons, and will never resemble anything in their lives ever again, has caused much of the current rot in academia. I don't even like the idea of dorms.
You go to college for classes. There should be classrooms with instructors who have PhDs or some appropriate academic title. The classrooms should be clean and well-lighted. There should be chalk or markers for the board or whiteboard. Maybe a projector that hooks up to someone's laptop could help but it isn't necessary. Instead of computer labs give the students laptops at a reasonable price that they will keep for as long as they can take care of them. Forget technology resource centers. The libraries should have books, a card catalogue, and a couple of librarians to explain how to use the card catalogue.
THAT'S IT! There should be no activities fees. Go into the town for a good time, to make friends, and for yoga classes and book signings with famous authors. If you want to hear music go to a local concert with living, breathing town residents or join a church with a great choir. If, Heaven forbid, you get raped, go to the cops. Do not force people to go into debt for hokey investigations, a free concert with No Doubt, a support group for gays or sex workers (see this barbaric flyer.)
Why does CSUN have a CSUN Women's Research and Resource Center? Or a Student Sex Worker Advocacy Network?
Why are families in Pacoima and Van Nuys pulling together their budgets to send little Suzy and Juanito to CSUN so they can pay exorbitant activities fees that bankroll group therapy for hookers?
If you are selling sex or money, should you be in college? Maybe you need to work things out a little and stop prostitution, and tell the cops to lock up your pimp first. Priorities!
The problem with obsessing about guest speakers is that this places conservatives inside the nexus of graft, extortion, and corruption which is the administrative-activities-fee industrial complex. I felt nauseous when I found out that Ann Coulter was going to receive $20,000 to speak at Berkeley.
What? Twenty grand? Honestly, people can just buy a marked-down used copy of Godless.
6. Until conservatives can prove they can stop right-wing professors from getting fired, they need to shut up about speakers getting no-platformed.
Imagine, if you will, that Heather Macdonald or David Horowitz had been able to give recent speeches at Claremont and Berkeley, without screaming lunatics making their talks undigestible to the general audience.
UC Berkeley would not be all that different. The faculty is still overwhelmingly left-wing. In fact, the faculty and administration have gotten even more left-wing over the last ten years, even after the press coverage about their bias has intensified. Tony Esolen, John McAdams, Carol Swain, and Paul Griffiths all ended up being forced out of their jobs in slow-motion car wrecks. At least they got more attention than I got, but they ended up just as exiled.
Maybe my sense that the conservative movement needs stronger credibility for its action plans does not persuade you. Maybe there is no need to insist that conservatives do something more proactive about the untenable problems with the faculty and administration on most college campuses. You may think that, yes, it's all about guest speakers and student clubs being able to host Cinco de Mayo parties without being called anti-Mexican.
But here's the thing--what would victory look like, the way the movement is going now? Milo was able to speak at UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara. When he left campus, was the campus any less leftist? Come to think of it, no. Because the faculty are the lifeblood of political life on the campus, and they have been purged of conservatives. The obsession with "free speech" only in terms of guest lectures and events has undermined the badly needed attention to the political cleansing of the professoriate.
7. I find myself not actually agreeing with a lot of things that people say when they defend free speech for conservatives.
Is it true that college is a place where you should encounter different political opinions? Do students benefit from having their worldview challenged when they are in college? Are colleges a marketplace of ideas where people should be open to many different points of view? Do colleges need to teach people how to engage respectfully with people who don't agree with them? Should colleges instill civility and respect and inclusive discussion of social issues?
These are things people say a lot. I don't think they are true. People go to college nowadays largely because they have to. The absence of a college degree on one's resume seems to pose, in many cases, a barrier to advancing professionally. It is not clear to me why someone who is enrolled in an institution needs to bother probing the thoughts and feelings of people with wildly different ideas about life, when they honestly just need to get a degree so they can buy a house and support their family.
A measure of pretentiousness and hubris colors our understanding of what college is and what it isn't. Many of these arguments for free speech seem to imply that conservatives should be able to speak freely because they serve some kind of personal enrichment for liberals. Conservatives sound, in such a framework, like waiters at a catered banquet, stopping by in their white shirts and bow ties to offer an amuse-bouche that one might have never had the chance to taste otherwise: look, a swordfish risotto ball! Melon pellets with applewood-smoked bacon and salmon eclairs with capers and lemons!
Where did we get this idea that we need to prove that we're interesting and entertaining so that people will let us talk? We should speak because we are right and what we have to say is important; otherwise we should be listening and taking notes. Let churches, families, marriages, friends, and the local Kiwanis club craft us and engage us. Sometimes we don't need to be challenged on our beliefs. Many of these bromides about campus discourse seem implicitly to affirm the leftists' right to continue spouting their destructively stupid beliefs, like the notion that everybody is born gay and sex work is a totally legitimate way to pay your way through college.
8. By flagging free speech, we implicitly promise support for some people whom I do not want to support.
There are some valiant and intelligent people who can make a decent business of defending free speech while not meddling in the specifics of what people believe. For instance, some of the great people at FIRE were truly noble at helping me even though I am sure they do not believe anything I believe about chastity or the natural family.
Perhaps my nobility pales beside theirs. I do not actually want to imply that Richard Spencer is a valuable source of insights or that Charles Murray offers new or helpful insights on things. Alice Dreger quit her job at Northwestern in what appears a nasty miscarriage of justice, but she also called the North Carolina bathroom law "hateful" and seems to mock the notion of pro-chastity education.
Yes, I have heard that I should support their free speech so they will support mine, but that never seems to happen. I got slammed and skewered at Cal State Northridge month after month, during which everyone seemed to back away until it was just me, my wife, Campus Reform, Daily Caller, Breitbart, and College Fix, and nobody gave much of a darn. I have learned to live with that, and in a sense I am okay with it. After much prayer I concluded that God called me away from that horrible job and brought me to a much better one. But my experience, like the experience of many others, could not resemble an Etch-n-Sketch. One cannot shake away the knowledge that when it got really bad, these people did not want to help the pariah. Life's not fair, I get that.
But given that life's not fair, I just don't particularly want to ally myself with people who got in trouble for pushing for the boycott of Israeli scholars or, as in the case of George Ciccariello-Maher, mocking war veterans over Twitter. In the spring of 2016, I remember receiving an email from a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, telling me that they were disinviting me because someone in Student Life disapproved of my saying I used to be Catholic. That's pretty insulting but I knew the student who had invited me meant well, and I had done some positive work with people in that largely Catholic network tied to Princeton. Most of all, I knew nobody would care to cover it because I wasn't famous. I let that one go.
When I received updates, shortly after that, about how Ben Shapiro was told he couldn't come to Cal State LA and he came anyway, I ultimately didn't want to get involved. Ben Shapiro is never going to come to my defense and I thought it was tacky for him to go to an overwhelmingly ethnic campus to deliver a speech called "When Diversity Becomes a Problem." When I saw a story about how a gay group at DePaul University sought to de-platform a gay Daily Beast writer who was scheduled to deliver a talk called "Gay Lives Matter," aimed at the homophobia in Islam, I felt the same way. The slaughter of Christians in the Middle East is incredibly important; the stories about gay men being thrown off rooftops matters because human lives matter, not because the people being murdered are gay. I don't think a Catholic university should foreground a message that seems, on the surface, to be using an international atrocity to bolster approval for homosexuality. I bowed out of the Franciscan gig gracefully. I don't feel like jumping in and rationalizing the visit promoting "gay lives matter."
9. I am a Christian. There are lots of things I am not supposed to say.
In Matthew 15:11, Jesus says, "It's not what goes into a man's mouth that defiles him; it is what comes out of his mouth... what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man."
I am an American citizen who believes strongly in the First Amendment. But I am a Christian first. I do not want to imply to anyone that my ideal society is one in which all speech runs amok with no limits. Some means of enforcing Jesus's law are wrong--I do not believe in stoning people as punishment for defiling themselves with speech (and neither would Jesus). But I would not support resources such as conference rooms or podiums, which I pay for, being used to elevate speech that defiles a man. Perhaps I sound censorious and Victorian, even puritanical, but I cannot deny that I fall far short of supporting the legitimacy of all speech.
10. Free speech as it evolved in the Western tradition was not a right but a duty.
Perhaps the greatest defense of free speech came from Socrates in his death trial, as recorded in Plato's Apology. Socrates delineates between true and false humility. True humility means acknowledging that one knows far less than one does not know. False humility is crying and bringing in one's suffering loved ones to sway a jury and receive leniency. Socrates declares his love for Athens and its Athenians, saying that if he hurt people's feelings, he did so the way a gadfly stings the rump of a lazy horse, trying to get it to move. But Socrates made clear that he would accept death as proof of his sincerity. He did not want to speak the truth and then be given all the comforts and indulgences shown to flatterers and falsely humble men. The willingness to suffer consequences acts as proof of a man's truthfulness.
Christianity built on this as well. The prophet is a lone voice crying out in the wilderness, the brave but afflicted figure who refuses to lie. He shows his virtue by spurning the luxuries and praise that men have always reserved for those who tell them what they want to hear. Christ says in Luke 12:11, "Whenever they bring you before synagogues and rulers and authorities, don't worry about how you should defend yourself or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what must be said."
In both the Athenian and Christian traditions, resistance to speech was a likely sign that one was speaking a necessary truth-provided that the speaker listens to the Holy Spirit (or, in Socrates' case, his daemon) and adhered to truth and rehearsed nothing elaborate to hide an unclean motive. If resistance is so great that one cannot even be allowed to speak, what is one to do? Jesus says to brush the dust from your feet, and move on. It is is this unattached attitude toward worldly honors that keeps people safe from hypocrisy, vanity, or flattery. The overall gist tells me that in cases where people try to stop you from speaking, you should worry about whether you speak the truth, not about whether they are open-minded people are not. If you do speak the truth, then rest in knowing you did your part to share the truth and move on. If you do not speak the truth, then their resistance is God's giving you a chance to improve yourself and purify your heart so that your message will come out purer to someone else.
The First Amendment was drafted in order to ensure, as much as possible, that an overreaching state did not squelch necessary truths that were likely to come from unpopular people (as the Founders knew always happened). They did not add the First Amendment to guarantee citizens the pleasure and enjoyment of saying whatever fancies filled their minds. It is not, at heart, an individual right, but a duty to a higher plane than oneself. In that spirit, we err in fighting too vigorously for the "right" to go anywhere and say what we please, without careful thought about what our message is, what is in our hearts, and whether that message comes ultimately from God. Whether it comes from God is all that matters.