On college campuses, teachers, students and sometimes even administrators seem to have become ever more eager to block any idea with which they disagree.
Often it appears as if their first impulse is to demonize the individual or organization presenting the offending idea, rather than to address the substance of the argument and open a discussion in the "free marketplace of ideas."
On the campus of Lake Superior State University, wall postings "deemed offensive, sexist, vulgar, discriminatory or suggestive will not be approved." The campus code of conduct states that if students fail to comply, they may be disciplined -- a rule that was named "Speech Code of the Month" for May by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
Lake Superior State University's campus code of conduct states that wall postings "deemed offensive, sexist, vulgar, discriminatory or suggestive will not be approved." (Image source: Bobak Ha'Eri/Wikimedia Commons)
Increasingly, individuals and groups, perhaps unknowingly betraying the spirit of classic liberalism, seek to shame or ridicule dissenting opinion into silence. Both in politics and on college campuses, it seems as if aggressive shaming has replaced the art of persuasion as the favored means of argumentation. Substantive, non-politically correct discussion is now at a premium.
In her recently published book The Silencing, life-long liberal and Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers documents the escalating efforts of people claiming to be liberal to silence dissent on issues they regard as contentious. The tactic follows what Powers calls the "authoritarian impulse to silence."
On issues ranging from campus "speech codes" to feminism, these self-described liberals are unwilling to entertain the notion that a well-intentioned individual from the other side of the aisle might have a different remedy for the problems of the day.
When feminist scholar Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute gave a lecture on the campus of Oberlin University on the topic of campus sexual assault and due process, protesters labeled her a "rape denialist" and claimed that they felt "unsafe." Perhaps we should begin calling such protesters "due-process denialists."
When the subject is religion, these "liberals" maintain a disingenuous double standard. "While the illiberal left seems to hold a special animosity to Christianity," Powers notes, in a remark that could also apply to Israel, "it is strangely protective of Islam, despite the fact that orthodox Muslims oppose same-sex marriage." Not only are Muslim attitudes toward gay marriage overlooked or roadsided completely, but if anyone dares to discuss the issue of minorities in the Muslim-majority world, they are labeled "racist," "Islamophobic," or other slurs at arm's reach.
Meanwhile, critics are unrelenting in their animosity toward observant Christians' views of homosexuality. "If you think about it, we are at the water's edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech," Senator Marco Rubio recently told CBN News. "Because today we've reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage you are labeled a homophobe and a hater."
Last year, at Brandeis University, when I sought to bring a human rights display highlighting the oppression of LGBTQ individuals in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the initiative was blocked in a flood of administrative bureaucracy. The member of the administration with whom I met was clearly not thrilled by the idea.
Meetings with a gay rights group and the Muslim Students Association (MSA), however, were just as telling. Hoping to solicit partnerships in the initiative, I explained to leaders and members of both organizations that the project was not about Islam, but about how, on a routine basis, certain governments murder people who identify as LGBTQ. Members of the gay rights organization expressed concern about "Islamophobia," while members of the Muslim Students Association expressed concern about "homophobia." The initiative was rejected. Both groups evidently prioritized the emotional and intellectual comfort of the campus community over drawing attention to the plight of innocent LGBTQ individuals in the Muslim world.
In denying the average college student the opportunity to hear, think, question and learn, these minority organizations violated the basic principles of a liberal arts education and what higher learning should presumably be about: challenging assumptions and talking openly about issues that might cause discomfort. It is still puzzling why the LGBTQ club and the MSA are not at the forefront of defending other members of their respective groups, regardless of where they may live.
Both micro-sensitivity and political correctness require at best, obfuscating information, and at worst, silencing it. It is incumbent upon those who recognize the dangers of the ever-expanding "speech-denialists" in the "political correctness" movement to put up a fight -- figuratively, of course.
Daniel Mael is a Fellow at the Salomon Center. He tweets at @DanielMael