A couple of days ago Sp¡ked published “How trans ideology hijacked the gay-rights movement.” It author, David Allen, was chair of the Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality (TORCH) from 1996 to 1999. An old warrior for the struggle for the right of gays and lesbians to stand equally before the law with straight men and women.
I will leave you to read the piece (it’s a terrific read). In this blog, I want to share something Allen’s piece moved me consider: the trouble an academic would seek for sharing this essay in a college classroom or suggesting to the director of a Pride center that perhaps the diverse needs of students are not met by a single office.
Why are there risks associated with such things? Because the ethic of free speech is not really a valued one in institutions of higher education. Don’t be misled by stories of universities hastily moving to take up the free speech question; this is occurring in the face of conservative and libertarian challenges to the culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), a system of woke progressive attitudes and theories that have taken root everywhere in America. That’s right, it’s not happening because faculty and administrators are worried about where woke has taken the institution. It’s public relations.
As I reported in April (Science Politics at the University of Wisconsin—Deliberate Ignorance About the State of Cognitive Liberty and Viewpoint Diversity on College Campuses), the University of Wisconsin System delayed a free speech survey scheduled for the spring (2022), pushing out its administration at least until the fall semester (where it enjoyed no funding), because they did not want the public to know how intellectually closed our institutions of higher education have become. It now appears the survey will be supplanted by a year-long series of free speech events emphasizing civil discourse, often a euphemism for the rule of inclusion. I fully anticipate the exercise will be an attempt at a deft recoding of DEI indoctrination.
It won’t be my first rodeo. Given that free speech should be a core value of every public university in the country, one should expect periodic refreshers on the importance of upholding everybody’s right to think and speak freely in order to move civilization towards greater heights of justice and technological prowess. Indeed, a common defense of free speech concerns its function in promoting positive social change. And it’s true: all modern-day social movements have depended on the ability of activists to speak freely—and on those brave enough to speak up for justice even when facing consequences for doing so.
However, what is often neglected in the defense of free speech on college campuses is the practice as intrinsic good, that is the recognition of the human right to cognitive liberty—the right belonging to every human to think and express his thoughts without consequence (which is what it means to say that speech is free).
To be sure, the functionality of speech to the dynamic of social change depends on cognitive freedom—which is precisely why authoritarian and illiberal types want to stifle speech! This is the imperative of blasphemy laws: to prevent heretics and even infidels from challenging the legitimacy of religious doctrine. This is also the imperative of rules compelling inclusive language: to exclude opinions that challenge the legitimacy of crackpot theories currently circulating through modern-day cultural and social institutions. When you are educated about “microaggressions” know that you are being subjected to the practical deployment of a crackpot theory.
When speech is rationalized on the grounds of functionality towards progressive ends, utterances determined to be dysfunctional for those ends are “justifiably” restricted. Thus “regressive” and “reactionary” ideas are disallowable under the speech regime envisioned by the progressives in charge of the institution or organization. This move presupposes what speech is for—and there are always people doing the presupposing (and it’s not hard to identify the commissar). But the free speech right is a neutral vehicle for the expression of human liberty that allows for any utterance to be emitted including (and, I would argue, especially) those utterances that offend the sensibilities of other people whatever their ideology, whatever their worldview—whatever their identity. That’s the human right: your entitlement to the universal freedom to offend others.
We must, therefore, in sussing out the essence of cognitive liberty, consider its obverse: thought control. Thought control is mind control. And if an entity can control a person’s mind, then that person is unfree. The rules of inclusion are thus in the service of mind control. Moreover, where undesirable opinions continue their lives in the privacy of skulls, insistence on inclusion encourages bad faith. The rules foster the development of clandestine groups where members, often suspicious of one another, try to feel free to let down their hair—just like Chinese Christians who meet in secret to pray (the house church). The rules create a culture that causes even comrades to lower their voices when sharing disallowed opinions. You know, like it was the former Soviet Union or in Nazi Germany. Most people don’t even bother to discuss effectively banned ideas anymore; they go along to get along.
What is often neglected in the defense of free speech, then, is the false claim that individuals or groups possess a right to be free from insult and offense. One often hears this false claim wrapped in the lofty defense of “human dignity.” Yes, the Muslim is man who believes in a religious doctrine, which is, in the final analysis, an ideology (as all religious doctrines are), and, yes, in theory, all ideologies are subject to criticism, but the man’s identity is at stake, and he has a right to that, so do not insult him for his deeply-felt religious convictions or offend his prophet. Well, to hell with his delusions and fuck his prophet. He has no right to tell me what to think or say. It’s not my religion.
We hear this same claptrap associated with rules punishing those who contradict gender ideology. Contradicting the claim that “transwomen are women” (on the grounds that women are adult human females and transwomen are males and thus cannot be women) are accused of an act approximating genocide. The criticism of gender ideology thus become a speech act erasing the existence of transpeople, an assumption that presumes as given what the critic is doubting (it is thus rendered undebatable) and, moreover, that a speech act is capable of such a thing. But if a man is permitted to doubt God, and surely he must be if he is a free man, then surely he is permitted to doubt the claim that there are “true selves” and “wrong bodies.”
This is why the rigorous defense of free speech is portrayed as “right wing”: it allows criticisms that challenge the legitimacy opinions uttered by those controlling the nation’s cultural and social institutions—while anti-white racism, anti-male sexism, and the remarkable denial that there are such things as men and women at all, are assumed as truth and uttered without consequence and even expecting affirmation. The free speech crowd is given its own identity and left to compete with the myriad other identities who, on the grounds of social justice, claim the right to silence speech they don’t like. Of course, folks are entitled to their crackpot theories. The Muslim enjoys his religious liberty. What they are not allowed to do, however, is establish rules that prevent others from challenging those theories. And that is precisely what the rules of inclusion aim to do—and are doing.
This therefore must be made plain: There is no right to dignity as such because, if there were, then those who claim to take offense at speech are given control over the cognitive liberty of others—and this is a human rights violation, rights to which we are all entitled. This is why those who claim to take offense seek to have the law or some rules at their backs: they desire to control others by punishing them for their opinions. And it should not have escaped your attention that those who complain about offensive speech are not those who might be offended but others who presume to speak for those people. How authoritarian is that? Very authoritarian.
Those who love freedom have allowed this to happen because the love of freedom is at once love for humanity. But this sentiment is misplaced humanitarianism, for it is in the end destructive to humanity.
Before I conclude, I want you to know that I hear your objections: “Fire in a crowded theater” (do I really need to debunk this one?) and “Libel and slander.” On the question of libel and slander, first it cannot apply to identity, as this is group-level abstraction and libel and slander, or defamation, applies to the action of damaging the good reputation of concrete individuals (I am skeptical even of this). Moreover, defamation can only be said to have occurred if a demonstrable lie had been told that causes a demonstrable consequence—all of this wrapped in malice. What demonstrable lie has been told when I openly doubt the claims of imams or gender theorists? Shall I be punished then for telling the truth?