Win the Debate, Don’t Shut It Down

How can liberals claim to celebrate diversity when they don’t allow diversity of thought or speech?

UC Berkeley’s successful attempt to shut down an appearance by Ann Coulter this week is just the latest example of college campuses – and liberals as a whole – attempting to stifle free speech by acting as society’s morality police.

As an antiwar activist, I am typically lumped-in with other so-called leftists, so when progressives act in an oppressive, hateful, racist, fear-mongering, violent or unappealing manner, it reflects poorly on the cause in which I associate.

I have been privately challenging some of my colleagues to reflect on their apparently hypocritical behavior, but doing so publicly, in this forum, is risky.  And in trying to make sense of this ironic phenomenon, more questions than answers arise.

  • Why is the so-called left trying to shut down debates instead of trying to win them? Is it because the left is basing its arguments on imagery and emotion rather than fact?
  • Were the students at Berkeley aware that Ann Coulter was one of the few people speaking out against the Trump administration’s bombing of Syria in response to the alleged chemical gas attack? Did they know she said the photos shown to Trump that made him act were probably “faked”?  Were the students afraid Coulter would talk about this in public?
  • How can liberals claim to celebrate diversity when they don’t allow diversity of thought or speech?
  • “Hate speech” is not free speech, according to those trying to prevent public appearances by various conservatives (the Supreme Court disagreed.) But even if the court ruled otherwise, who would get to determine what hate speech is?  Would any citizen who accuses someone else of hate speech have the right to prevent the accused from appearing in public?  If so, when students label people like Milo Yiannopoulos, Charles Murray, Richard Spencer and Ann Coulter as “racist,” “Nazi,” “fascist” or “white supremacist,” who would get to decide if the students themselves were engaging in hate speech?
  • What are students and liberals so afraid of? If the people they are blocking from speaking are as bad as they claim, why not let them speak publicly and make fools of themselves?  Do students such as those at UC Berkeley not believe that their fellow students are wise enough to identify distorted views?  I’ve had public discussion with pro-war people who say things like, “bomb them all” or “turn the Middle East into a parking lot.”  Not that I’m happy to hear anybody utter such words, but I know it helps my cause, and not theirs.  Why don’t anti-conservative students feel the same way?
  • In many cases, it appears as though college students (spurred on by their professors, administrators, anti-Trumpism, the Democratic Party and liberal media) believe they have the final say in who gets to speak. It makes you wonder how college students can get an education when they are unwilling to hear both sides (or multiple sides) of an argument?
  • Why does intolerance permeate many liberal circles today? Why are so many colleges (and liberal institutions) so hostile towards white people, men, heterosexuals and conservatives?  Why have so many fallen into the trap of oversimplified identity politics?

Shelby Steele, Senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution offers one explanation:

“White guilt is not actual guilt. Surely most whites are not assailed in the night by feelings of responsibility for America’s historical mistreatment of minorities…White guilt is not angst over injustices suffered by others; it is the terror of being stigmatized with America’s old bigotries, racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. To be stigmatized as a fellow traveler with any of these bigotries is to be utterly stripped of moral authority and made into a pariah…White guilt is a mock guilt, a pretense of real guilt, a shallow etiquette of empathy, pity and regret…It is also the heart and soul of contemporary liberalism. This liberalism is the politics given to us by white guilt, and it shares white guilt’s central corruption. It is not real liberalism, in the classic sense. It is a mock liberalism. Freedom is not its raison d’être; moral authority is.”

Liberals/Hollywood/pop culture are creating an environment of hyper-political-correctness, where anybody who doesn’t share their worldview can be demonized and ostracized. Immigration, abortion, race relations – regardless of the topic, watch liberals who are asked questions about their views – the typical response is avoiding the question, shouting down the questioner, and ultimately calling the person a racist, xenophobe, homophobe, misogynist, etc.

Examples of today’s hyper-PC culture are offered below (this list is a follow-up to 30 Incidents of Out of Control Liberals.) These are instances of colleges and/or liberals in the US – and around the world – who apparently believe that their own interpretation of what is right or wrong is the only acceptable option:

The antiwar group which I co-founded in 2003 has repeatedly struggled for the right to publicly speak out against US foreign policy, and many of us have been thrown in jail for doing so.  Time after time we have had to fight for our right to publicly demonstrate, and on three particular occasions the city of St. Petersburg, FL tried to criminalize our protests outside of a shopping mall.  The city’s rationale for trying to chill our 1st Amendment rights was that our peaceful demonstrations created a “public safety hazard.”

Maybe that’s one reason it is so appalling to watch liberals today try to prevent people from speaking in public.  I’m assuming the Berkeley crowd would not try to shut our antiwar protests down because they would agree with the message.  But this just points out the disingenuousness of many of today’s college campuses whose message seems to be, “it’s OK for you to speak if I agree with you, otherwise, I have the right to use any means necessary to prevent you from expressing your views.”

Obviously, many of today’s liberals and college students really don’t want equality. They want a world in which a person’s race, gender, sexual preference, citizenship status and political beliefs determine whether or not that person has the right to speak.

Why can’t they just be honest and say something like, “people of color, women and gay people have been on the short end of the stick for so long (I generally agree with this, though I know many black people who have had it easier than many white people I know, and many women who’ve had it better than many men I know), so now historically oppressed people get to decide the rights of everyone else.  And even though we don’t like police, we are going to be the world’s morality police.”

If this were the message of those at places like UC Berkeley, I would respect their honesty, even though I disagree with them.  But they won’t say that out loud because it would expose them as being two-faced and most of society would reject their views.

History will most certainly leave these people in the dust, but in the meantime my hope is that the antiwar movement’s message does not get disregarded due to the reactionary, hypocritical and repressive behavior of so many of my cohorts today.