And then there were two…
… kind of, sort of. It turns out that my worries that the left might be starting down a troubling path are actually held by one OTer other than myself. It’s just that he’s one of the long-gone ones.
Ex-Leaguer (and all-round mensch) Freddie wrote recently that the left seems to be cracking down on free speech:
I know some people will assume I’m speaking to some sad fringe here. But I have been amazed at how mainstream these anti-free speech efforts have become. I have been amazed not just because of the immorality of trying to ban free though, free expression, and free assembly, or because these efforts reverse centuries of the assumed work of the left, but because of how easily this could backfire, in a world where our movements against sexism and racism and homophobia are still so fragile and contested. Ten years ago, the Republican party ran on a platform of opposition to gay marriage, and enjoyed enormous electoral success, and yet people trust the majority so deeply that they are willing to hand it the power to ban unpopular speech. My people: we are not nearly so popular or powerful as it can sometimes seem, when we engage with those we agree with online.
In a follow up essay, he notes:
Please believe me when I say: it is not at all unusual, for me, to encounter liberals and leftists who speak out about issues of social justice like feminism and racism and similar who do not believe that controversial speech (what they call hate speech) should be legally expressible…
My assumption was that people reading here would be aware of the evidence of these problems, but I should have been more careful. I would cite, for example, the rise of“free speech zones” on college campuses; of protesters shouting down invited speakers and preventing them from speaking, rather than of protesting those speakers while allowing them to speak, offering a rebuttal, or inviting a counter-speaker; increasingly heavy-handed trigger warning policies for college instructors and similar efforts to regulate course content; and harsh crackdowns on student activists, such as the pro-Palestinian activists at Northeastern University. You might well say that pro-Palestinian activists are the kind of people who would be working alongside those who push to regulate speech on campus, but that’s just the trouble. Are Jewish students who claim to be unfairly affronted by pro-Palestinian demonstrations that different from students who claim that Things Fall Apart triggers them? When you let the genie out of the bottle, there is little telling who and what it may harm.
Academics are my people. Leftists are my people. I have been around both my whole life. I am unapologetically a member of both tribes. I have no desire to slander or misrepresent them. I would love to tell you that the notion of a declining commitment to free speech in their quarters is a conservative fever dream. And like all people, I am constrained by my own personal experience, which is necessarily limited and biased. But I can only honestly represent to you both my personal experience and my read of the current journalism and literature on this subject, and both tell me that there is a distressing current of antagonism towards free expression within the social justice left.
My point? Dunno. Can’t say as I have one, really. It’s just a little comforting to know I’m not the only one who sees this.