DeMint at Yale: Academic Censorship as a Political Weapon
The following are Jim DeMint’s prepared remarks delivered to the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale University.
I’d like to start out by telling you the story of a young guy named Omar Mahmood. He was in the news a couple months back.
He’s a junior at the University of Michigan, and writes for both the mainstream campus newspaper, The Michigan Daily, and the University’s alternative conservative publication, the Michigan Review. At least he did, until he became one of academia’s latest victims of political correctness.
Omar recently wrote a short satire of the “check your privilege” fad. It was just a tongue in cheek article that described how a system of right-handed privilege was oppressing left-handed people everywhere through daily right-handed “micro-aggressions.”
The article was humorous, harmless and conservative.
In response, The Michigan Daily invoked a technicality to kick Mahmood out of his writing gig, claiming a conflict of interest. Much worse, a group of students vandalized his room, pelted the door with eggs and hot dogs, attached hateful messages calling Mahmood “scum” and told him to “shut up” and leave the school.
The editor of the Michigan Review said, “These progressive students attacked Omar because they felt that he, as a Muslim, cannot also be a conservative.”
I wonder whether more media networks would have sounded the hate crime alarm over the attacks on Mahmood if it weren’t for his political views.
Incidents like this – when someone says something unpopular then gets hounded out of business or bullied – can happen almost anywhere in modern America. But they are most likely to happen in our colleges and universities, where honest inquiry and debate are quickly becoming secondary to the “right” not to hear contrary opinions.
Recently, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released a report determining that most U.S. colleges now violate free speech rights.
This applies both to students and those who are allowed to address them. As you know, a few months ago, Scripps College disinvited political and cultural commentator George Will from giving a lecture as part of its Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program.
Will’s “sin” was simply failure to toe the progressive line regarding statistics and rhetoric about sexual assault on campus. So instead of engaging with him or debating him, Scripps wouldn’t let him speak.
I wrote that before you announced him as the Guest of Honor at your upcoming “Dis-invitation Dinner” in April, which I think is a great idea.
Last year you also gave a platform to Hirsi Ali, when the forces of political correctness tied themselves in knots over whether to side with the feminist or the extremists she opposes.
A teaching assistant at Marquette University recently banned discussion of homosexual marriage in an ethics class – even though it would seem the perfect place for such a conversation – saying that mere discussion of such matters would be “homophobic.”
When tenured professor John McAdams spoke out against this censorship on his blog, the university responded by suspending him from teaching and banning him from campus.
So not only are students forbidden from talking about certain subjects, but a professor is now forbidden from complaining that the subjects are forbidden.
These instances of academic intolerance go hand in hand with a general revolutionary insanity among students which seems to be promoted more than actual education on campus these days.
At UC [University of California] Irvine the Student Council wanted to ban the American flag from its offices and common areas. At UCLA [University of California-Los Angeles], the Student Council debated for 40 minutes over whether being Jewish was a strike against a nominee for their Judicial Board.
It seems we hear a new story every week. When you put blinders on students to protect them from ideas that might hurt their feelings, they also become blinded to ridiculous and offensive behavior of their own.
This isn’t just an American problem. Academia spans nations, and its diseases can swim across oceans.
At one of the world’s most famous houses of learning, Oxford, a pro-abortion versus anti-abortion debate was canceled last Fall because, apparently, men aren’t allowed to have opinions on such things in an educational setting anymore.
For the record, even the pro-abortion debater thought this was ridiculous. When an academic debate is reduced to the identity of the speakers, you have officially declared that objective truth does not matter – if you even believe it existed in the first place.
Of course, private colleges have a right to determine their speakers and publications. But any institution of higher learning worthy of the name should be open to the free exchange of ideas.
Censorship in academia is being excused using the same justifications for all censorship through history: Those considered lacking in virtue don’t get a platform to speak. Free speech applies only to people saying the right things.
The Left knows that if there is honest and open debate, those who have the truth on their side will win out – and this happens to be the worst-case scenario for people who aren’t concerned with the truth as much as political power.
They’ve taken a page from Saul Alinsky: several pages, in fact. The famous community organizer’s book “Rules for Radicals” gives great insight into the progressive mind.
In his words, “You don’t communicate with anyone purely on the rational facts or ethics of an issue.” Instead, he famously wrote, the Left needs to “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”
So there you have it: don’t debate, don’t argue with the other side. Shut down the conversation, and cast anyone who disagrees with you as a monster.
This mania for censorship isn’t exclusive to campuses, although it finds its perfection there. You can see it in private business, mainstream media, social media, and the attitudes of our elected leaders.
Occasionally, a member of the wealthy elite gets thrown under the bus by members of his own class, almost as a sacrificial offering to the out-of-control radicals they have trained to win them elections.
You may remember what happened to the CEO of Firefox last spring, Brendan Eich, who was shouted into retirement because, years before, he supported California’s Proposition 8 – affirming marriage between a man and a woman.
52 percent of his fellow Californians agreed with him at the time. And journalist Nate Silver reported that many other donors from Silicon Valley also supported the measure. But he was still thrown away by the ruling class, like a herd of buffalo letting the sick and weak fall to the wolves.
It’s cliché to hear about movie stars wearing Che Guevara T-Shirts while living in mansions, but it’s the same hypocrisy at play here: The elites foster a rabid hatred of traditional values, constitutional order, meritocracy, and honest debate in the segments of the culture under their influence, whether it’s a city, a campus, or an audience.
Then, when the uproar they help create turns to abuse and censorship, they sit by. They allow some people to soak up the abuse, and let their troops vent their rage at the innocent.
The issues have changed, and the venues have changed. The intimidation everyone fears no longer comes from radical gangs protesting government offices but gangs of radicals shaming you on Twitter.
Nonetheless, the underlying tactics have remained the same.
The last 15 years of tech innovations and near-universal adoption of social media have made it easier than ever to pick, freeze, personalize, and polarize an issue.
An unintended consequence of political debate being reduced to a tweet or a rant in a website comments section is that the real-world actions of progressives have become less rational, more indefensible, and more cowardly, because they are often anonymous. Perhaps that’s why Mahmood’s peers thought it was a great idea to taunt him with hot dogs and slurs – an act simultaneously outrageous and juvenile – because their thoughts have been reduced to 140 characters at a time.
But there is a wealth of intelligent, civil discourse on the internet. Technology doesn’t really control our minds – but blind ideology can.
That is the cause and the purpose of this phenomenon: Academic censorship, political correctness, saying who has the right to speak on a topic and who does not, bullying those who break the taboos of this new cultural Marxism – it all adds up to a means of control.
Control who gets to speak, and you control the debate. Control the debate, and you control how people think. Control how people think, and you control society.
After all, the easiest way to win an argument is to tape your opponent’s mouth shut. Too many educators today think this is a good idea. They think that their own righteousness sanctifies these tactics.
Whether it happens in the Ivy League or state colleges or even high schools, it affects the rest of the nation. The surrender of one institution sets precedent for the surrender of the next, and eventually most of academia.
Along with it, hundreds of thousands of bright minds will only hear one side of the debate – one that teaches them to despise their national heritage, to rebel for the sake of rebellion, and to profane the sacred on the belief that nothing is sacred, except for the idols that the elites themselves create.
They will live and act according to this narrow existence: passionate to say and think exactly what’s in fashion and careful to condemn all the “undesirables” who do differently. The truth will take a back seat to the whims of man.
That is not a country I want my children’s children to grow up in, and I don’t think you’d like it much either. All it takes is a few people with courage to change the course of history.
So it is all the more important that you dissent from this new culture of censorship, and offer clear, well-argued philosophical and political alternatives.
Many of your progressive peers have never even heard real conservative ideas beyond parodies on The Daily Show.
I encourage you to give them another way.
Let the abuse bounce off you, and always be of good cheer. A good character is a magnet for good conversation – and in those conversations you can reveal truths that indoctrinated students have never considered.
The work you do here at Yale, and the work of the William F. Buckley Jr. Program, is of paramount importance to your fellow students and your peers around the nation.
Never let anyone silence you – or the truth. Thank you.
Republished from The Daily Signal.