My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

February 22, 2023: Non-favorite Trends: Free Speech for Me

[For this year’s annual post-Valentine’s non-favorites series, I wanted to highlight some current (and in most cases longstanding) trends that really gripe my cookies. Add your non-favorites to a crowd-sourced weekend airing of grievances that’s always one of my favorite posts of the year, ironically enough!]

On how “free speech” so often seems to mean the exact opposite.

One potential response to both of my last two posts—on defunding as the real crisis facing public higher education and legislative, rhetorical, and actual attacks on teachers and librarians as the real threat facing our educators—would be to ask whether limits on (or even arguments for limiting) free speech in schools aren’t another crisis and threat in and to our educational institutions. I tried to engage thoughtfully with those free speech debates in the opening paragraphs of the Saturday Evening Post Considering History column to which I linked in Monday’s post, and which I’ll share here again for convenience. The too-long/didn’t read version is that I do think at times activists on campuses and at schools (or in related groups) can go too far in limiting voices and debates, and/or otherwise changing speech (the revised version of Huck Finn being a striking case in point). But I’d say those cases are the exceptions rather than the rules, and indeed can serve as canards to distract us from what’s really going on much of the time.

What’s really going on when it comes to free speech debates is to my mind concisely illustrated by what happened at Twitter in late 2022. When Elon Musk bought the social media giant (which as I’ve discussed many times in this space was my very favorite online community), one of his chief promises what that he would return “free speech” to the platform. He did indeed immediately set about allowing various folks who had been banned from Twitter for violations of the site’s policies to return, from former President Trump to alt-right and neo-Nazi voices. Yet at precisely the same time—and I do mean precisely the same time; the two articles hyperlinked in these two sentences are far from the same day, November 29—Musk used suspensions and deactivations to silence the accounts and voices of left-wing critics of not only those extremists, but also and especially of himself and his actions. He then took that one giant step further by suspending a wide range of journalists who had simply reported on Musk’s actions and words (among other important topics). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more overt example of the old (and apparently quite true) adage “free speech for me (and in this case my friends and fellow travelers), but not for thee.”

Twitter isn’t itself an educational space, although I think there are important parallels. But I would say that the same adage applies to many of those who are pushing for “free speech” when it comes to including voices and debates in such educational spaces. After all, if they’re advocating for inviting, hearing, debating a voice that blatantly and systematically argues for eliminating other people and communities, they’re fighting for free speech for such voices at the direct expense of the speech (and existence) of others. A great case in point was the invitation of Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes to speak at Penn State in the Fall—McInnes and the Proud Boys advocate for hate and violence that targets numerous American communities and seeks to eliminate them from not just our public sphere but I would argue our society entirely. Allowing McInnes the “free speech” to express those views and goals at an educational institution would be inviting a direct threat to many other members of that educational community, which can’t help but make their ability to speak freely fraught and endangered at best. That version of “free speech” is a serious non-favorite trend of mine.

Next non-favorite trend tomorrow,


PS. Thoughts on this non-favorite? Other non-favorites of any kind you’d share?

No comments:

Post a Comment