What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech
Campus protests against speakers like Richard Spencer are not censorship. They help secure the basic rights of those marginalized, transgender people included.
Ulrich Baer makes some very important points regarding free speech in the New York Times. The university protests against right wing extremists speaking on campus is not an attack on free speech. They represent a defense of free speech.
Free speech rests on respect for some common rules of engagement. When one group argues that it is in some way superior to another, the other group cannot take part in the debate on equal terms.
If a fascist requires proof for the Holocaust, there is no point for a Holocaust surviver to provide such proof, as the fascist will dismiss all proof as lies. The fascist has already defined the survivor as a liar. The fascist is invalidating the very life and existence of the Holocaust victim by denying the truth and value of his or her life. That is an act of violence, not an argument in a debate.
Indeed, as Jean Paul Sartre pointed out, the fascist will knowingly break the rules, because he is not searching for the truth, he is searching for power:
“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play.”
The concept of free speech and an open discussion requires a minimum of trust and a common understanding of what truth entails.
Bear uses transgender people as an example:
“The rights of transgender people for legal equality and protection against discrimination are a current example in a long history of such redefinitions. It is only when trans people are recognized as fully human, rather than as men and women in disguise, as Ben Carson, the current secretary of housing and urban development claims, that their rights can be fully recognized in policy decisions.
The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.”