The hate speech spewing provocateur
As a haven for intellectualism, university campuses have been pivotal as the birthplace of many social movements and protest. From the civil rights protests of the 1960’s, the sit-ins and protests against the Vietnam war, and as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, university campuses have a proven track record for being on the forefront of progressive issues. No matter what happened, university students fought tooth and nail to protect the core enlightenment idea that “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” an idea which is at the bedrock of liberalism. In an age where information can be shared by the tap of a share button, many people have retreated to their ideological camps and political spectrums have become more extreme. As such, today’s students have interpreted liberalism to mean political correctness and intolerance to opposing views. As a result, cafeteria food on university campuses have been protested due to “cultural appropriation” and the American flag has been banned from student government offices at the university of California- Irvine as it is a symbol of colonialism and imperialism.
The perversion of liberalism is nowhere clearer than the riots at the University of California at Berkley following the announcement of a lecture by Breitbart contributor and professional provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. The lecture was open to all. To state it simply, if you did not want to hear him speak, you did not have to. Instead, students rioted to get his lecture canceled, and it was effective. As French professor, Deborah Blocker at Berkley elegantly put it, “Mostly this was typical Black Bloc action, in a few waves — very well-organized and very efficient. They attacked property but they attacked it very sparingly, destroying just enough University property to obtain the cancellation order for the [Yiannopoulos] event and making sure no one in the crowd got hurt.” Instead of using it as an opportunity to face Milo and challenge his views and try to disprove him, the students decided that it was best to ban him from their campus. Ironically, rejecting Milo provided him with a much bigger platform he could have ever dreamed of. He instantly became a household name and a best-selling author. Hate speech is protected under freedom of speech. And by trying to censor it and stick it back in the shadows we only make the problem worse. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and we can only eliminate hate speech by shining a light on it and speaking out against it and changing the minds of the very people who spew it. By keeping these ideas out of view, the psychological concept of group polarization takes root and soon even more radical ideas appear. By simply being exposed to their own ideas, groups tend to make decisions that are more extreme than the initial inclination of its members.
“Authoritarian regimes throughout history have used the suppression of freedom of speech to suppress dissent and control societal ideas to benefit themselves.”
Today, much care is taken to prevent hurting other people’s feelings. Participation trophies are given left, right, and center and children are coddled, which has left our children unaware of the world that exists, setting them up for a rude awakening once they become adults. However, as hard as we try to protect everyone’s feeling, we simply end up hurting more people. It is impossible to protect everyone’s feelings the same way we can protect everyone’s rights. Most worrying, however, is the fact that when feelings are prioritized over rights, the ones who suffer the most are those who hold dear the principles of liberty and free speech. “Student safety” once meant fighting against opponents of racial integration. Today, it is a term used to shield students from uncomfortable ideas.
The direction in which our society is headed is a dangerous one. One with the potential to polarize populations, allowing for hate and misconceptions to take root. We do not have to look into a crystal ball to see what the future holds in store for us, opening a history book would tell us all we need to know. There has never been an open and free society in which fundamental rights, such as freedom of speech, have been restricted. Authoritarian regimes throughout history have used the suppression of freedom of speech to suppress dissent and control societal ideas to benefit themselves. The grandest example of this is the transformation of innocent children to hardened Nazi soldiers or into suicide bombers. However, humankind is unique in its ability to face any challenges in its path. We have connected oceans by canals, turned deserts into bustling metropolises, and reached the moon and back. We can chart our own destiny and each one of us has a role to play. It all begins by realizing that no matter how much one may disagree that there is another human being on the other side. Just like you, they have had experiences that have led to where they are today and by coming together to listen and understand the unique situations and pressures we each face, instead of confronting and rebuffing each other, a deeper appreciation begins to take root. It is when we listen that we can truly appreciate the person behind the ideas. That is when we can embrace each other and learn from one another, without necessarily agreeing on everything- as equals. By embracing these differences, we become stronger, smarter, and happier.