The anti-free speech police ride again

February 22, 2015 • 12:12 pm

The proliferation of identity politics and the demonization of free speech continues apace on America’s campuses. Speakers with unpopular opinions have their speaking invitations rescinded or are demonized by students whose tender ears can’t bear to hear something challenging, and students continually press for rules against “hate speech,” often construed as “speech that makes me uncomfortable.” For a fuller account of the bizarre extremes of this brand of campus fascism, see Wendy Kaminer’s piece in Friday’s Washington Post, “The progressive ideas behind the lack of free speech on campus.

I don’t know why the mantra “all politics is personal” is permeating our campus, but I have my theories. I won’t inflict those on you now; I merely want to report another example of campus excess, a flyer distributed by Columbia University’s group Everyone Allied Against Homophobia (EEAH). EEAH asked every Columbia student to put this on their window, declaring their room to be a “safer space,” and many did:


I hardly need to point out that I, too, am against homophobia, have taken a consistent position in favor of gay rights over the last few decades, and written about it frequently here. And of course I abhor discrimination against trans people, disabled people, poor people, or members of other ethnic groups.

But what this sign is about is censorship: certain ideas will not be discussed, certain issues will not be entertained, all feelings will be coddled and nobody will be offended. Colleges are supposed to be “unsafe spaces”—unsafe in the sense that you can expect your ideas to be challenged, your feelings to sometimes be bruised, and, rather than having your ideas, opinions, and feelings coddled, you’ll be expected to defend them. I feel revulsion at the idea of a “safe space”, for it’s the antithesis of academic freedom, and a discussion stopper.

Let me put it this way: everyone here knows that while I think Israel has done some bad stuff in the Middle East, I also think they’ve been given an excessively bad rap by the world, and the Palestinians given excessive deference. But would I want to stop discussion of this topic on campus, or prevent someone from bringing it up in my presence or even from making anti-semitic remarks? No. Would I want my university to prosecute someone who called me a “racist” for generally being on Israel’s side in the fracas (and those slurs have been made)? No. I would argue back as far as I was able, and perhaps I’d learn something, as I often have in these discussions. If my room were a “safe space” in which nobody could bring up potentially upsetting matters, I would never even have the opportunity to change my mind or even examine my views.

At any rate, a Columbia student named Adam Shapiro, a history major, wrote a letter in the Columbia student newspaper decrying this proliferation of “safe-space” ideology, and also said this in an interview for Spiked:

‘People call them safe-space zones, but actually they’re censorship zones, that’s exactly what they are’, Shapiro tells me. ‘Students need to fight back and have dangerous spaces.’ Towards the end of last year, Columbia — home to some of the most PC, word-watching students in the modern West — had at least one ‘dangerous space’: Shapiro’s room. Instead of hanging up the sad ‘safe space’ sign shoved under his and every other students’ dorm door, Shapiro wrote and displayed a sign headlined ‘I do not want this to be a safe space’. His room, the sign said, is a place where all who enter will be expected ‘not to allow identity to trump ideas [or] emotion to trump critical thinking’. ‘Whether you’re black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, bi, transgender, fully abled, disabled, religious, secular, rich, middle class or poor, I will judge your ideas based on their soundness and coherence, not based on who you are’, his sign declared. Then there was the sign-off, in bold, a warning to anyone who thought they could pop into this student’s room and arrogantly expect that certain things would not be thought, said, or argued out: ‘This is a dangerous space.

College is—or should be—a dangerous space. The world is a dangerous space. The only reason we’ve been able to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice, as Martin Luther King put it, is through speech and discussion—speech that some group would have deemed offensive and dangerous. Prohibit that discussion, and the arc will straighten again.

h/t: Amy Alkon


202 thoughts on “The anti-free speech police ride again

  1. When I was at school in the 60’s, it felt revolutionary. Free speech was taken seriously, perhaps because we challenged the status quo on the war. But many of us were mushy thinkers and a lot of baloney flew out of their mouths. I think I see a lot of baloney these days and not so much of the defiance I remember.

    1. I am on Jerry’s side big time with this. Free speech is our most important right.

      However, I was thinking back to an 18yo me in the early ’80s in my first year at uni, and I think I might have thought this sign was a good idea. My brain and mind had grown up in an environment where many of those around me were bigots, and I was revelling in an environment where my ideas of equality were suddenly the norm.

      Now, it’s Adam Shapiro I see as the one who’s got it right, of course. If I’d seen his notice back then, I would have thought he had a point but been so keen to do something for all those I’d seen suffer in my provincial town up until then, I would have been quite conflicted. I would have worried it was an excuse for bigotry.

      I see this as a sign we should be teaching things like ethics to kids much earlier, so by the time they’re at uni they’ve got this worked out.

      1. “My brain and mind had grown up in an environment where many of those around me were bigots . . . .”

        Same here, plus a few of them members of my extended family and short-/ill-tempered, forcing one, as a child/teen, to assume a continuous default position of closely/constantly monitoring/evaluating their moods, trying to figure out what (not) to say/do in order to keep them happy campers and to preserve the peace. That accommodationist modus operandi stuck with me through most of college dealing with certain obstreperous/bully students (and unfortunately a couple of profs). Maturity and experience eventually remedied that.

  2. I’ll take it one further.

    College campuses generally have, at least at some point during the year, a bunch of tables lined up on the main walkway in front of the student union or library or whatever. And all sorts of social clubs and political parties and activist groups and what-not are sitting at those tables, handing out literature.

    So long as they have enough members to staff them, I want to see the KKK, Americans for Prosperity, the American Nazi Party, and Prop 8 proponents with tables on those malls, right alongside all the liberal organizations I’d feel safe amongst.

    The intellectual safety that universities should offer should be the discussion of these topics. They should be a safe place for the grand clash of ideas and ideals.

    They should most emphatically not be places where you can be safe from having whatever notions you arrived there with from being challenged.


  3. Hear, hear!

    That pink flyer creeps me out. It’s sole purpose is to limit free speech and to instill guilt in people. The flyer itself states that students will struggle and fail. To hold people to an impossible standard and flogging them for failing does not lead to peaceful outcomes.

  4. I don’t like the “dangerous space” or “unsafe” space language. That’s letting the “safe space” people control the discussion.

    Better, I think, to counter with something positive, such as “Censorship Free Space” or “Freedom of Ideas Space”.

  5. The idea that you can rid the world of bad ideas by preventing anyone from talking about them is like thinking that you can fix a rotting floor board with a coat of paint. All ideas need to be out in the open, where they can be measured for their worth.

  6. Pretty soon none of us will be able to speak if these “safe space” areas continue to crop up. University was the place I really enjoyed because we could say just about anything and were encouraged to do so, as long as we supported what we said with sound evidence. I still remember a professor saying that one of my fellow students held views that he found “personally repugnant” but he nonetheless made good arguments so he received good marks. I can’t recall what those views were but I do remember it was in an English class.

    1. That was something I loved about it too. I remember getting an A+ for an history essay, then my professor writing more than a page of comments on why I was wrong!

      1. I got a perfect grade and “The best ever defense of a wrongheaded thesis” on my first philosophy of science paper (about critics of AI). I never did ask Bunge which interpretation of the remark (it is ambiguous) he meant.

      1. No, I was taught to use the Oxford comma and offered no other choice. It wasn’t until I had a job as an editor that I discovered the preference for its opposite. I still like the Oxford comma best.

              1. Amazing video! That looks like one continuous take with no cuts at all – impressive.

                (I was going to ask what the hell is an Oxford comma, but I googled it. I think I’d usually use it).

  7. This flyer illustrate an important point. Attacks on free speech come from both the right and the left.

    On a slight tangent, I got my first hate mail! A commenter claims that my site contains ‘the most unfunny most intellectually offensive crap’ he’s ever seen. I can accept the unfunny part, but most intellectually offensive? 🙂

  8. I agree that universities should be dangerous places and that academic freedom is important. This is why I get angry when people try to censor professors who promote Intelligent Design Creationism.

    1. Really, Larry, aren’t you conflating Creationism and ID? Seems like you are going to annoy both AIG and the DI with that one.

      So, where do you come down on the issue of absolute Holocaust denialism in a professor of European History? Or an astrophysicist teaching astrology? Or a math professor teaching numerology? And none of those have the issue of constitutionally required separation of church and state.

      Jerry has gone after teachers in *US government funded schools” for improperly favoring and teaching their personal religion in science class over the actual science. Which quite different from your attempt at framing the issue as “academic freedom”. It is not “academic freedom” to proselytize to students in government funded schools.

      1. I think Larry is making the strongest case possible for allowing academic freedom in its fullest form. In that form, even the most probably wrong ideas like ID/C, holocaust denial, and crystal healing therapy should be permitted because they are speech, and because academics should be extended considerable freedom to express that speech while at work.
        However, I am still going to come down on your side (not on Larry’s) that promoting ID/C in the classroom of a public university violates the establishment clause and so it it is profoundly illegal if it is taught in the classroom in a way that promotes it, and creates a coercive effect on the students. That is the way the scales of law are tipped.
        I personally am more than OK with that, since I have no wish to see that part of our constitution be undermined. No C/ID promoter has their speech oppressed, really. They are immensely popular, and they can write all the books, blogs, and hold as many meetings as they want.

        1. ” . . . in the classroom of a public university . . . .”

          Just to reflect that such things aren’t allowed in a PUBLIC institution, hence the effort of certain human primate tyrants to PRIVATIZE as much as possible, so that such strictures don’t bind them.

          Recently saw an ad in a parents magazine for a certain private school, “grounded in the Christian Faith and the classical tradition.” In larger font at the top of the ad was, “Imagine a School . . . That Doesn’t Tell Students What to Think, But Teaches Students How to Think.”


      2. The U.S. courts have already ruled, in Aronson vs. Alabama, that a teacher can’t proselytize religion in schools. Since ID isn’t science, it falls under that ruling.

        Larry, I think, is badly wrong here, for he’d find it okay to teach faith-based healing in an “internal medicine” class, and astrology in a psychology class.

        1. Jerry,

          Hiding behind the US Constitution is a bit of a cop-out. Imagine that we were in Canada or Great Britain. Would you still try to ban any professor from promoting the concept of irreducible complexity or discussing the implications of the fine-tuning argument?

          How about a professor who said that science was limited by methodological naturalism and religion was another valid way of knowing?

          My point is that if universities are supposed to be dangerous places, and they are, then the classroom has to be just as dangerous as the dorm room. That means that we have to tolerate students AND professors who disagree with us. That’s the price we pay for real academic freedom.

          By trying to censor or dismiss every professor who even mentions intelligent design in the classroom you are sending the wrong message to students.

          1. I am not just using the constitutional issue here; I’m just saying why we CAN’T do that. And you still haven’t answered the questions I asked about teaching astrology in psychology class, spiritual healing in medical school, and flood geology in geology class. Imagine the waste of time that wold entail. It is not “censorship” to require that professors not teach discredited theories, and it shortchanges the students to pretend that creationism is a valid alternative, as Eric Hedin did at Ball State (he did not present the evolutionist alternative). You keep tucking the issues. Why don’t YOU answer some questions for a chance instead of demanding all of us to deal with yours?

          2. Sorry, Larry, what is the “right” message? That we should waste students’ time in lectures advocating ideas which are not good scientific hypotheses?

            The only place I can see for ID in the classroom – here in the UK, or in the US, or Canada, or wherever – is in a philosophy of science class as an example of an idea which is not a good scientific hypothesis, as (in short) it doesn’t provide a better explanation of the diversity of life on Earth than the established theory (the modern synthesis, with natural selection, !*genetic drift*!, &c.) does, invokes additional complexity (the Designer) for which there is no evidence (and no need), and doesn’t provide any testable predictions that would differentiate it from the modern synthesis.


          3. the classroom has to be just as dangerous as the dorm room

            Why should this be so? One could expect presentations of quack theories in a debate class, or a course in comparative philosophies. But that’s fundamentally different than teaching quack theories in a science course.

    2. Nor should we censor physics professors who promote the ideas of phlogiston, or calorific, or the luminiferous aether.

      Oh, wait. They were actually, at the time, serious ideas the then-current best scientific explanations.

      Whereas ID isn’t even a scientific hypothesis. It deserves no time in science classes. Professors should surely be censured for wasting students’ time.


    3. Larry, if the professor wants to promote any sort of nonsense, from Cretinism to Communism to Christianity to cannibalism, he should be perfectly free to do so.

      Just not while he’s on the clock as a professor.

      Do it off-campus — hell, even do it on-campus at a rally, but ditch the university ID and don the fan club’s regalia.

      When he’s in the classroom, his job is to teach the course materials. And Idiot Design has nothing whatsoever to do with biology, so any science professor promoting it in a biology class is committing gross dereliction of duty — and any other professor promoting it in any other context is committing an even grosser dereliction of duty. It has a place in sociology and religious studies and even history of science, but only as far as is required to examine the phenomenon itself; it should never be presented as a good idea, especially by modern standards.

      Never mind the Wall of Separation questions at publicly-funded institutions; failure to keep promotion of Credulism out of biology classrooms would throw the door wide open to teaching alchemy in the chemistry classrooms, astrology in the astronomy classrooms, that grapefruit fall (significantly) faster than grapes in the physics classroom, and so on.

      And if you think that sort of thing should be permitted in modern academia, I have absolutely no respect for you whatsoever.



      1. Just not while he’s on the clock as a professor. […] When he’s in the classroom, his job is to teach the course materials.

        Exactly. Arguing that a science lecturer should not be censored for promoting creationism in class is like saying that the electrician you paid to work on your house shouldn’t be censored for installing spaghetti instead of proper wire.

        1. ” installing spaghetti instead of proper wire.”

          Haha, I laughed.

          So, yes: what is the dividing line between asking for purity of convictions and plain and simple quality science? There’s no way around it to put it somewhere, and it’s bound to be a muddy distinction always. Going to any one extreme here obviously isn’t useful.

    4. So Larry, I guess you do not agree with Queen’s University’s decision to stop the professor from teaching her materials that seem to suggest an anti-vaccination stance?

      1. I have a problem with that and I strongly disagree with the decision to fire her. If I had been in charge, I would have made sure that her views were challenged by another lecturer in the same course. That would have been a valuable learning experience for the students. And probably for the professor as well.

        Censoring viewpoints that you disagree with should always be avoided. It’s better to get them into the open and debate them.

        Realistically, the only views that a professor is likely to promote in the classroom are those that have some support in the community. Those are exactly the ones that need to be debated. Banning them isn’t going to make them go away.

        1. She wasn’t fired. She does have to have her future work reviewed to make sure it is, as the provost out it, “intellectually sound”.

          This isn’t a matter of a viewpoint or opinion it is a matter of truth and falsehood. She was teaching something that is scientifically unsound. It would be tantamount to a professor teaching expanding earth when that theory had been long discredited.

          Do you really think that this would be a matter of debate? That undergrads would have to argue one against the other?

    5. If you are a science professor employed to teach a science curriculum in a publicly funded institution, then yes, you should expect sanctions for trying to pass discredited or unscientific ideas off as legitimate science. This isn’t censorship–it’s upholding U.S. law and ensuring academic integrity.

      1. Professor Moran seems not to understand free speech. I would agree that an individual has the free speech right to say anything he/she wants, aside from issues like libel and slander. However, this right does mean that a third party is obligated to provide that individual with a forum.

      2. I generally agree, but would support LM in a more nuanced sense: I have little problem with department-approved elective courses in ID creationism. Such a course would be best located in a Philosophy or Sociology department, but could be located elsewhere if there’s a professor with the experience and interest in teaching it.
        If you’re paid to teach Bio 101 or Chem 101, then ID creationism really has no place there. Nor in any other science class where the subject matter is expected to be reasonably standard across academia and prepare the student for graduate school or other advanced classes. I don’t think a professor has the “academic freedom” to (for example) short-shrift their Chem 101 students on redox reactions just so they can teach their pet hobby. That has never been what ‘academic freedom’ is about.

        1. As a person with philosophy degrees and a desire to improve the profession’s reputation: please do not suggest using it as a dumping ground for discredited nonsense!

          One can discuss ID in philosophy classes as a pseudoscience, or look at how it is historically related to creationism, philosophical theology, etc. but not *endorse* it there.

          On the other hand, if the philosophy *club* wants to discuss it, invite in cranks, by all means, do so.

    6. when people try to censor professors who promote Intelligent Design Creationism

      To one who fancies oneself an academic, it may well feel like censorship to have one’s theories excluded from science classrooms. I doubt personally that IDers and creationists truly feel censored: they speak the rhetoric of censorship because it lends an air of David and Goliath to their cause, but they know perfectly well why their ideas are shunned. And, to paraphrase Ricky Gervais, just because you feign offense does not mean you are right.

      If creationism or ID were to develop peer-reviewed research which was validated by independent, neutral teams and the valid part of their theories were excluded on the basis of the originators’ beliefs, or because it challenged established science in some way, then one might have a case for censorship. But of course, no such research exists. Their hypotheses are non-starters, their methods are unprofessional at best and often fraudulent, their papers are very poorly written, their review process is nonexistent – and their reviews of proper science are laughable and incoherent.

      In traditional, established science, any one of the above features would be the death of a proposal and potentially career-ending for the researcher(s). But know comes creation “science” sporting all of the features in every area of study it touches! So excluding its proponents from science departments is not “censorship” it is “quality assurance.”

      1. Don’t you realize that the same kind of arguments can be made for any potential scientific idea that you disagree with? Of course you’re going to think that it’s not true science and should be banned.

        If everything you say is true then we have nothing to fear from exposing those ideas to students. Presumably they’ll come to the same conclusion. That would be a good thing.

        Censoring the ideas in order to keep students from hearing about them isn’t going to work. They already know about them and censorship looks a lot like we have something to fear as well as being contrary to the spirit of the university.

        1. Sorry, Larry, but string theory and other controversial theories are taught. “Controversial” is not the same as “wrong.” And you still haven’t responded about whether you would favor astrology being taught in a psychology class, or faith healing in a medical school class. As many writers have said, our job is to teach science, not discredited and religiously- or faith-based theories that have been discredited. I cannnot imagine why you’d wouldn’t object to spiritual healing taught in medical school, but I guess you wouldn’t.

        2. Larry, were I in charge of a college and a physics professor was teaching the Luminiferous Aether and Phlogiston theories as valid and worthy of serious consideration (and not merely presenting them in their historical contexts), he’d be out on his head so fast his ass would spin.

          Incompetent Doodling is no different.

          As I see it, either you can defend the teaching of Alchemy in a Chemistry class, or you can explain why Incoherent Damnation is valid science. And I’m utterly at a loos as to how you’d go about either.


        3. Larry, at some point we need to confront the difference between “facts” and “opinions.”
          Expressing unpopular opinions is free speech.
          Presenting untrue facts is simply lying.

    7. It’s not censorship if the theory has been shown to be scientifically wrong and motivated by religion. So a professor at Ball State taught ID creationism in his class as science and didn’t give the alternative. Was that okay with you? Presumably it was. Forcing him to teach evolution would have been “censorship”, for you’re telling the guy what he has to teach.

    8. Limiting discussion of social issues because certain people don’t want their opinions challenged is one issue.
      Teaching junk science is another issue altogether.
      The underlying cause of these attacks on free speech is an emphasis on emotional appeal over intellectual honesty.
      The facts mater.
      And ID is not the facts.

      1. In the 1960’s I took a course in morphology of plants and the professor said he was using the text by Harold C. Bold (U of Texas) who was a creationist. The professor explained that the text was the best one out there and Bold’s religious attitude wouldn’t matter for the course. I wonder if Bold had expressed his religious views in classes he taught, should he have been removed? It is possible a very fine text would not have been written if he had been unemployed.

        1. I don’t think that Dr(?) Bold should have been unemployed. He was free to believe whatever he chose, provided he could produce a viable text on the morphology of plants, which he apparently did. But a creationist authoring a viable text is an entirely separate issue than whether or not it should be removed from science classrooms.

          1. My point is if the U of T had removed them from it’s faculty for being a creationist – not that that was at all likely – he might not have have been in a position to publish.
            Now, in fact, he was the world expert on fungi, so there was really no possibility he would not have been hired elsewhere. But, for other, less renowned and established scholars, that might not be the case.

  9. I’m intrigued and simultaneously afraid to learn why “eaah” and “everyone allied against homophobia” is all lower case.

    My suspicion*: Capital letters are – sigh – imperialist or something. Think about the ways initial caps would oppress all the other letters!

    *I really, really hope it’s not this.

    1. Oh and hey PCC – I think you got their acronym wrong. It’s “eaah” not “EEAH”. And please do not use oppressive capital letters. 😉

          1. i’m starting to track transgressions of this type at the jrcftj – the jeff rankin center for typographic justice

            #lowercasepower #typestrong

  10. I think you’re talking past each other. That poster is about being accountable for mistakes.

    To say that you will call people out on offensive language so that they can change it if they want to – and the same in return.

    The classic example would be the recent furore over Benedict Cumberbatch using the word “coloured” because it has less offensive connotations here in the UK (although it’s still pretty much “racist old folk” territory). He was called on it, apologised, and doubtless will not use it the same way again.

    Nothing on that poster says you can’t be _deliberately_ offensive, or discuss offensive ideas, just that you don’t want to accidentally offend people, and that you will actively work to avoid giving offence where it is not intended.

    I don’t see anything to object to in that goal.

    1. In a nation where a 9-year-old child was suspended from school for calling a schoolmate “black”, I see plenty to object to in such reactions to spoken words.

      People should be judged by their attitudes, goals, and actions. Not their choice of words.

      1. Jesus! Someone got suspended for calling her friend “black”? I call my brown friends, “brown” all the time! I call myself “white” and they call me “white”. You can here sentences like, “I dunno why that guy recognized us; I guess he saw a white girl and a brown girl in a car and thought it was us & he was right”.

        1. If you look up “fourth grader suspended for lord of the rings”, you’ll find several news stories. They all focus on the latest incident for this student, where he was suspended for making a “threat” with a toy One Ring (something about making another kid disappear or the like).

          The articles all mention two previous suspensions for the same student. One was for bring a published book (The Big Book of Knowledge) to school which apparently had a drawing of a pregnant woman that the teacher found offensive. The other was for calling another student “black”. That’s all the detail given. I don’t know, for example, whether or not the other kid was, in fact, black. I strongly suspect he/she was, and the school was foolishly trying to enforce nonsensical politically correct terms like “African American”.

          In Texas, no less.

          I have a feeling that if I had kids in school, I’d be spending a lot of time yelling at the administration and/or threatening law suits.

    2. pjie2:

      Perhaps the issue here is whether the writer of the flyer intends the type of speech he favors as (1) more of a request (“Gosh, I wish, personally, that no one would ever call another person a hurtful name.”), a request to which he is entitled for his own personal living space, as opposed to (2) a part of a larger political theory that should be enforced beyond his living space, perhaps even as a moral imperative.

      I see two very different evaluations of the flyer depending on whether (1) or (2) holds.

      Perhaps Jerry saw the flyer as the latter. How did the writer mean it? Unfortunately, the flyer itself is too vague and general to allow us to draw a conclusion for the writer. I think this distinction is crucial.

      1. Since the flyer was apparently distributed to ‘everybody’ it appears as if the latter i.e. (2) is the case.

    3. So what the heck is the current politically acceptable term for “coloured”?


      It seems to me the preferred term changes more often than I can keep up with, and to little effect. As soon as the euphemism becomes common enough to cease to be a euphemism they have to change it again. This has the unfortunate effect of implying there’s something wrong with being non-white.

      I like most black* people. I just don’t know what to call them. ‘African-Americans’ is self-evidently wrong anywhere in the world except the US. I just wish it would stabilise (like ‘gay’ has) so I don’t have to rack my brains about which word might be safe to use.

      * or whatever is the currently accepted term.

      1. The apparently acceptable, even preferred, phrase I see often on social media is “people of colour” or “POC”. “[P]eople may be of colour but they are not coloured,” writes Yemisi Adegoke in The Independent. But the difference between “POC” and “coloured [people]” seems forced.

        How long before “POC” is taboo?


          1. Good for him!

            I just Googled David Oyelowo and he isn’t reticent about speaking out about the lack of coloured roles** (roles of colour?) in television. Cumberbatch was saying almost the same thing when he slipped up and Oyelowo commented “To attack him for a term, as opposed to what he was actually saying, I think is very disingenuous and is indicative of the age we live in where people are looking for sound bites as opposed to substance.”

            Well said.

            (**The Guardian had to express it as ‘British actors of African or Caribbean origin’ which sort of makes my point about the clunkiness of these terms).

            1. Elsewhere, I came across this:

              Imagine being on fire, running up to a firefighter screaming for help, and they hook their hands in their pockets and say, “Actually, before we start, I think you should say you’re violently oxidizing. Not all oxidization is bad. I mean, some of my cells are performing oxidation right now, and I think it would be better if we …” Your last act would be to SET THAT PERSON ON FIRE.


            2. Somewhat off topic, but I recall former US president Geo. W. Bush, in his 1st state-of-the-union address, using the term ‘people of cover’ to refer to women in strict Islamic societies. I suspect one of his speechwriters was attempting a bit of right-wing humor.

        1. ‘People of colour’ sounds almost like a joke term, to me. How is it different in any way from ‘coloured people’? It’s also sufficiently convoluted that I would find it hard to use it without suspecting myself of irony.

          But I agree, it too will become taboo as soon as it ceases to be a euphemism, which probably means as soon as it becomes the default term for the people it refers to. And another clunky euphemism will have to be found.

  11. I have to disagree with you, Professor Ceiling Cat. I don’t see how this innocuously worded flyer is any different from Da Roolz you’ve asked people to follow when visiting your website (not, “blog”). It’s a request, not a demand, that helps create an environment for conversations, rather than fights.

    Support for free speech might be on the decline at the moment, but I think that flyer provides a poor example.

    1. Well, that’s fine if a student feels the need for “Da Roolz” in their own room.

      But this “pink slip” is eeah pushing it’s own rules on all students, putting social pressure on everyone to conform.


      1. I don’t see much “push” in that flyer. I see the words “try”, “encourage”, and “want”; I didn’t see “must”, “require”, or “or else”. And it is their room: they are students at the university and using their free speech to change minds amongst their peers sharing the classroom.

        If they were barging into private homes or businesses and enforcing these rules, you’d have a point. Until they start, you don’t.

        1. Well, the coercion is not in the language of the flier itself, but in the fact that it is being distributed and its posting encouraged. I don’t see that a university has any right to dictate or try to influence what students talk about within their own dorm rooms, rather than in “public” spaces, let alone a student society.


          1. This is one group at the university asking students to post this in their dorm rooms. It’s quite a stretch to claim it’s the university itself dictating anything.

              1. You said:
                “I don’t see that a university has any right to dictate or try to influence what students talk about within their own dorm rooms”. Are you saying that was a strawman argument, after all?

              2. Your comment was a denial that you had said that, and nothing more. It’s not ‘quote mining’ to point out that you did say it, in the post above the one you replied to.

              3. And Ant said, ‘let alone a student society’. He’s right, Taz/Barney are worng. Ant was criticising eaah, not the university.

          2. Ant, eaah is a student group at the university, not the university itself:

            And (as far as I can tell) they only asked their peers to post the flyer with no coercion, other than their cause has a social good associated with it.

            How would you have preferred eaah to get their point of view heard?

            1. Yes, I know it is, that’s why I said, “let alone a student society”.

              My point was, and is, that this *is* different from Jerry’s “Roolz”. Leafleting every student’s room is saying, “These are the roolz you should have.” “Coercion” maybe too strong a word, but this is pressuring people to conform.


              1. Why would a group of students be less able to express their point of view to their peers than the university? The university is in a position of authority, and in some cases is an agent of the government. The students are just individuals with a message.

                Coercion, pressure, etc are not valid ways to describe this situation: people received a leaflet and those recipients were free to agree, disagree or ignore it as they wished.

                Again, what would be your preferred method for eaah to get their point of view across? Right now, it seems like you’re the one trying to restrict a valid means of free speech.

              2. I’m certainly not advocating curtailing their right to do this. I just disagree that this is equivalent to Jerry instituting his Roolz here or a student instituting their own roolz in their dorm room.


        2. The ultraliberals I know (anti-free speech, to a person) almost always use words like “would it be possible” to mean “obey or else,” and “encourage” to mean “force.” It always seems sort of Orwellian to me.

    2. I see it the same way; this is just a flyer asking people not to be dicks. It is not the work of anyone in a position of power, and doesn’t forbid (even if it had the power) free discussion of any topics. The writer wants people to do their best to refrain from actually oppressing people, I don’t see how that’s a bad idea. They don’t suggest that any topic is forbidden or any opinions not wanted. I think this post has got the wrong end of the stick completely.

      1. “They don’t suggest that any topic is forbidden or any opinions not wanted.”

        But see my reply to Benjamin #34. Topics and opinions that a disagreeable are nowadays shut down as being “oppressive”.

        Just like the religious claim they’re being oppressed because gnu atheists dare to criticise the basis of their beliefs.


          1. Ha. But no. Even though atheists are a minority in other countries (than the UK), I think it would be disingenuous when I have everything else stacked in my favour (so to speak).


    3. Sharkey:

      I don’t see how this innocuously worded flyer is any different from Da Roolz you’ve asked people to follow when visiting your website (not, “blog”)

      If the people handing it out were asking people to post it on their room doors, you might have a point. Then it would be an “entering my space, play by my rules” sort of notification.

      However, they are encouraging people to post it in their windows. Since people do not enter rooms through windows, and since dorms aren’t built like storefronts, that means it’s clearly more of a political or social statement. You post that in your window, you’re making a statement about the campus or about how you want other people to behave outside of your room.

      Let’s just imagine that every single student took one of these, and posted it on the inside of their door, i.e., where only people in their rooms could see it. Do you really, honestly think that the producers of this poster would be happy? I don’t think so. The “outward-facing” message is the point.

      1. Actually, no, since the asking it be posted on the window (maybe there’s a rule about not sticking posters on the walls as it damages the paintwork) but with the *text facing into the room* (bolded into the original).


        1. I think you’re still being somewhat naive; a big pink rectangle in the window, for which every student knows the meaning, is social signaling. Again, if they had really intended it not to be, it would’ve been easy to suggest a non-visible-from-the-outside-yet-effective posting place.

          1. Such as? Esp. if there is a prohibition about putting stuff on the walls (which there was in my college). And which meets the criterion of being easily visible when someone enters the room (so behind the door won’t do).

            I do see what you’re driving at, but it seems kind of paranoid …


    1. The most depressing aspect of all this is that there has been a strange shifting of the free-speech moral high ground over the last few centuries and decades. Freedom of speech is a quintessentially liberal idea. The whole reason the concept was invented was in order that various arguments in favour of political and religious tolerance could be heard. For a long time the political discourse was dominated by conservatism, and free speech allowed for liberal ideas to occasionally be heard, so it was unsurprisingly defended by liberals and frequently opposed by conservatives. Now, when society is arguably more liberal than conservative, at least in terms of the kind of discourse popular media allows for, the defenders of free speech, with a few(very) honourable exceptions, are on the conservative right.

      I find it incredibly depressing that magazines like Spiked and The Spectator often seem to be the only ones speaking out in defence of free speech(a couple of months ago I spent about half-an-hour to an hour clicking around Spiked, marvelling at the incredible priorities right-wing magazines often have, before leaving in a funk). Few of the conservatives making these arguments are genuinely attached to the idea of freedom of speech, it’s just that they don’t like not being able to say racist or homophobic things without being called ‘racist’ or ‘homophobic'(which to me is progress). And yet to many liberals(who’ve never lived in a generation whose ideas were considered dangerous), the idea of free-speech, since it’s often used by conservatives as a defence, and since liberals no longer feel like they need it now that the tone of the discourse is essentially controlled by them, is the enemy.
      I can’t blame these students too much – I look at that poster, and, as an unthinking, unengaged liberal, I probably wouldn’t have seen too much wrong with it when I was at university. I wasn’t interested in philosophy, science, politics, etc.. I was only interested in music and girls. It’s the people who proudly describe themselves as liberals, who presumably must have thought through their position a little, yet discard free-speech now it’s no longer politically useful or convenient – they’re the ones who get my dander up.

  12. Dr. Coyne, you wrote: “I don’t know why the mantra “all politics is personal” is permeating our campus, but I have my theories.”

    Please DO share them. I have been trying to understand why this is happening now, and I have ideas about that as well….

    As example, I think “safe zones” are a backlash against the actual effects of multiculturalism. In other words, that the 1st world is in fact the least sexist, homophobic, etc etc places on the planet. You want homophobia and sexism…well you find aplenty elsewhere.

    And what these students (and teachers) are attempting to do is shut down discussing the extraordinary contradiction between the reality of the world and the absolute ignorance of their politics and “scholarship”.

    1. It’s pretty well encapsulated by the old adage “give them an inch and they take a mile”.

      Censorious people on the far left have received so much deference over the past 40 years with their charges of racism and sexism (later joined by homophobia, and even more recently by Islamophobia) that they’ve pushed us all further and further towards Orwell’s nightmare where Thought Crime is a thing.

      That’s the strongest simple explanation in my opinion, though it’s no doubt not complete.

      1. Some liberals see freedom of speech as a political tool, a tool they can discard when they control the dialogue. The same is true of the vast majority of conservatives(at least as far as I can tell). Very few people are prepared to genuinely stand by Voltaire’s maxim, and ceding ground on the principle of free-speech is rather like ceding ground on the principle of secularism. Both secularism and freedom of speech are the only neutral positions – the respective positions of the right/left, and the religious/otherly religious(?)/irreligious, fluctuate over time. Sometimes one group is stronger than the other, sometimes the opposite. The only way to rig the system to prevent game-theoretic inclinations from permanently skewing the political and religious landscape is to legally and philosophically enshrine both free-speech and secularism. Even if you couldn’t give a shit about the other side’s rights you can ‘future-proof’ the political and religious landscape for yourself by supporting free-speech and secularism.
        The American constitution seems more and more magnificent the more I think about this subject – it’s properly ace, and I wish Britain had some kind of equivalent that would similarly future proof our society against what is a very noticeable current desire on the part of various political and religious groups for exemptions, exemptions from having to abide by the neutral positions that democratic countries implicitly endorse.
        Again, in this country all the calls for a British constitution come from the right, usually because they don’t like the European Union’s ability to impinge on supposedly sovereign legal issues. I disagree with them on their motivation but they at least have a point. Britain is secular in all but name, and I would like to see secularism properly enshrined. Right wing religious types like Peter ‘just-sniffed-poo’ Hitchens use the centrality of Anglicanism in British govermental law to justify their drearily unpleasant conservative beliefs about equality legislation, or faith schools, or Christian privileges like unelected bishops in the House Of Lords.

        1. Another opportunity to post this:

          If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Noam Chomsky, _Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media_ (1992)


    2. When I was in school a few years ago, there were a few such safe zones on campus and I have to say that what you’re writing here is about 180 degrees from what I saw: the safe zones were the places where people who didn’t fit into the middle class heterosexual cisgendered Caucasian male majority could go to talk about their perspectives without getting shouted down.

      1. Well, I am not an American, so I can tell you what real homophobia looks like for example…as in Saudi Arabia.

        What school did you go to? Shouted down? And after your writing “middle-class heterosexual cisgendered Caucasian male majority”….well I wonder about your judgment.

  13. Dangerously and bringing it on (although done so with my characteristic trepidation), it needs to be spoken — finally out loud then — that the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr’s moral justice – arc as re human beings did not include in it — at all — Not Males.

    It did not, throughout its entire bend, include in it any color of nor class of us Not Males; and as re any of his works at bending it for actual justice “socially” then — for OVER half of the World’s human population morally? These works never, not one time, included in them stated and / or very public demonstrations demanding the stoppage of such “scripturally” and religiously (very, very many of them Islamic, some of them from his high – up – there – physically & psychologically – above – me – actually, churchy Christian pulpits) backed behaviors as female infanticides, complete female clitoridectomies and other carving mutilations of only – Not Male genitalia, stonings for just about anything involving Not Males’ sexual conduct, rape as weaponry and on and on and on. On to even “mere” “domestic” violence formats.

    This man, when he was alive and working at such an arc – bending for justice, had for it a whoooole lotta.lotta complicity in this (actually) pogrom – like conduct of his from nearly all of the other, so – called civil “rights” – activists who happened to be Males, very, very silent ones. Ms Eve Ensler had a rather telling TED talk which I now see is recently gone from youtube but which one’s message is thus:, such a sad FACT about this very silence / this passivity by so many.many.many “good men” — so pernicious it be since its end result of determinedly doing nothing actually kills so many of us.

    Then, too, right away on already her page iii) of the introduction of Dr Rosalind Miles’ masterpiece, The Women’s History of the World (two editions so far and here, there is this: “It is a common belief that whatever the situation, both sexes faced it alike. But the male peasant, however cruelly oppressed, always had the right to beat his wife. The black slave had to labor for the white master by day, but he did not have to service him by night as well,” about which “matter” that man (purposefully = because he so could) … … did squat. With their (self – “taken,” of course) Male – speech – to – the – Divine then, these men could have done so, so much to help out all of us Others.

    Because of all of this then and let it be known from me within this particular month of studying certain histories, this specific man and any memory thereof, … … anymore I cannot and shall not mollycoddle.

    ps FLIP / REVERSE: the first little boy, of any stripe anywhere, with his entire penis carved on by religious leaders and thus “reconstructed” for its micturition function .only.? Why, just how swift after that very first one do you s’pose those very same leaders ‘re gonna rise the hell up and bring down .to exactly zero. even “the thinking” that there can be another one so amputated?

    My wager? These same leaders aren’t gonna stand a second still for “this thinking” — as so they — AND the entire World’s populace, of course —, should not.

    1. I have a Cambridge certificate in Advanced English (C1 level, just one rank below ‘native speaker’) and I’m having trouble reading that. What are you trying to say?

          1. Didn’t recognize the name, it just looked like the kind of gibberish that I’ve seen with some spambots: block of text that doesn’t parse with random embedded links.

  14. The language and message in the pink flyer seems rather vague to me. The part about “trying not to be oppressive in my interactions here, and encouraging others to do the same” is difficult to interpret. If someone asks me who I cheered for during the Superbowl and I reply that I didn’t see the game or that I don’t follow football, am I being oppressed? Are they being oppressed by my indifference to this cultural event? Perhaps we are just exchanging ideas and opinions on issues that matter to us. Surely we can engage in these interactions safely on our college campuses. If that’s what eaah is advocating, then I support the effort.

    1. “If someone asks me who I cheered for during the Superbowl and I reply that I didn’t see the game or that I don’t follow football, am I being oppressed?”

      Certainly not, if the questioner leaves it at that. However, there are at least a few adherents of this particular “religion” who apparently are so made that they cannot leave it alone, and will respond in faux shock, “What!? You didn’t watch the game!?” At which point I – not feeling oppressed but miffed – will reply, “Am I not speaking clearly, or is it that you just can’t believe I said what I said?” (re: Dawkins’s “Argument from Personal Incredulity”)

      1. If I’m being challenged because I didn’t watch the game, I might interpret this as a bit aggressive or judgmental, but I still wouldn’t feel oppressed. If I’m being challenged due to some aspect of my ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, then the person has exposed him/herself as a bigot.

  15. I find it fascinating that anyone thinks monitoring speech is what matters for changing those attitudes. Just think many times has a word for mentally disabled changed because the new neutral term became derogatory.

    It also seems a futile endeavour because language is vague at the best of times, and what words people choose isn’t so precise that a use of a particular word is meant to take in all the connotations that usage may imply.

    A couple of years ago, I did a MOOC where there was a peer-marked essay challenge. One essay used “sex” and “gender” interchangeably, and one reviewer took exception to this and went on a rant about how gender is something completely different to sex, in the process completely ignoring the meaning the original author was trying to convey. Seems a waste, really.

    This whole thing seems to have bestowed words with essentialism, that the words embody the essence of the attitudes, rather than words represent meanings and the problem is the attitudes people have.

    1. Restricting language bothers me as well. I encourage people to use whatever words they need to to adequately express themselves. I hate having to overthink my language if I am trying to express an idea.

      1. Language policing does nothing more than destroy communication. This is the exact opposite of what needs to happen if one is truly interested in social justice.

        1. These days I’ve come to the opinion that social justice is little more than the righteous delight one feels at treating moral transgressors with contempt. In a parallel with other moralists, do people who picket abortion clinics really believe they are reducing abortion? Perhaps there’s some delusion that what they are doing is “good”, but the moralist mindset does not work that way. Rather we delight in punishing transgressors – not in making the world a better place. It’s why my Facebook feed fills up with Internet memes and articles about the injustices in the world and quotes that demonstrate moral superiority, but seldom anything that actually helps those causes.

          Being morally superior is never about doing good in the world. It’s about shaming and ridiculing those who disagree with you. So I wouldn’t take many of them to actually be interested in social justice any more than anti-abortionists are interested in lowering abortion rates. It’s all about appearing morally superior and punishing those who violate what they see as the norm.

      2. I do so agree with you Diana. I would want my ideas to be judged on their merits and not on whether I mistakenly used last year’s politically correct (and this year politically incorrect) term.

    2. Exactly. A word is used to refer to a particular group of people, but some people are prejudiced against that group so the word gains derogatory connotations (e.g. “coloured” or “spastic”). Hence it ends up being regarded as simply a derogatory term and another term gets invented to replace it. Which then itself can end up following the same trajectory.

      I remember a few years ago hearing someone (a jewish USer, IIRC) say that “Jews” was a derogatory term, and that you had to say “Jewish people” instead.

      1. As well, certain terms are current or off-limits in different parts of the world.
        It may be that “coloured” is OK in Britain but not in the US.
        I just found out that the word “beaner” is a derogatory term as applied to Hispanic people in parts of the US. As Hispanic culture is unknown in rural Ontario, this surprised me as that was the nickname we had for our granddaughter.
        I sort of thought that “Oriental” was OK but apparently not…. I believe “Asian” is now OK. Both are better than “Chinaman”.
        Quebeckers may be behind the curve on this, as they still use the term “chinois” or “chinoise” to describe Asians.

      2. The way the words are used is important. If one uses “colored” simply to refer to black people, or “spastic” simply to refer to the condition of having high muscular tone, then no problem.

        But using those words as insults is not ok, because the reason they’re supposed to be insults is the alleged inferiority of the people they legitimately describe.

        1. The difficulty is in teasing out when it’s used as an insult, when it reflects a societal bias, and when its use is inert.

          One thing that can be claimed is that the use of the offensive language indicates a subconscious prejudice, or is an unconscious parroting of the prevailing cultural norms. That way the use of particular words can still be condemned without the person being condemned having any intent behind it. At this point, the exercise is little more than policing the speech of others with no beneficial effects beyond satisfying that moral outrage.

          1. Yes – it is frustrating when people get called out for use of offensive language when it is quite clear that there was no actual offensive intent. People need to grow up and be more sensible about this. Benedict Cumberbatch’s use of ‘coloured’ was a case in point. He was speaking out about the lack of good parts for non-white actors as something that needed to be addressed and clearly had no intention whatsoever to be derogatory towards the group of people he was trying to support.
            If one wishes to offend it is perfectly possible to do so using only approved, non proscribed vocabulary so let’s judge what people say by the content and intent not by whether or not they steer clear of particular words which have been arbitrarily deemed offensive.

  16. If a history of universities were to be written, I think many universities would have been viewed then and, now, as hotbeds of radical ideas. Learning and ideas are thought by some to be dangerous. Such shakng up of unconsciously held beliefs is beneficial. Otherwise, change is not possible.

    Back in our college days, the McCarthy era, film was shown on campus of the HUAC (House Unamerican Activities Committee) hearings. FBI agents stood outside the entrance to observe
    and note students who attended. One thought carefully about what one did when the government is suppressing freedom of speech.

  17. So long everyone because I’m probably about to be banned by the Great Ceiling cat for a cringe-worthy biological metaphor. Lacking free will, I am compelled to type this.

    All ideas should be expressed – otherwise there would be no way for natural selection to eliminate the bad ones.

    1. All ideas should be expressed – otherwise there would be no way for natural selection to eliminate the bad ones.

      Isn’t that what conservative talk radio likes to claim?

      If natural selection was able to eliminate bad ideas in any sort of timely order, fundamentalist religions would have gone out long ago. It looks instead like all too often, whomever shouts the loudest is judged the victor, regardless of the quality of their argument.

      1. Furthermore, whoever finds themselves espousing the unpopular opinion is more highly motivated to shout loudly than those holding the currently popular opinion, who see themselves as having earned a well-deserved rest from the debate. There may be a parallel to voter apathy here as well.

  18. Chris Rock while promoting his recent movie was talking about how he no longer performs on college campuses after a discussion he had with George Carlin before he died. In the discussion it was basically said that college campuses are now the most conservative places in America.

  19. A topic of monumental importance. When you purchase a new car you suddenly notice all the other cars on the road identical to your own. Something similar is going on with the thought constables. They are ‘seeing’ their car (thoughts) everywhere. They cannot see the other cars on the road. What I see is a direct correlation between thought suppression and misinterpretation of news, and an inability to yield to other drivers when they have the right of way.

  20. It’s hard to read this post as anything but the disconnected ranting of a delusional paranoiac.

    1. There is no censorship going on here, just the dissemination of a flyer encouraging people not to be oppressive in their interactions – how is that too much to ask, especially as a standard in a space you own?  You have a section of your website called “da roolz” where you do just that, and rightfully so.  What’s the difference between that and posting a flyer requesting people not to be bigoted assholes in your dorm room?

    2. Even if it IS a declaration that some ideas are beyond the limits of decency, or even that they not be entertained – so what? It’s trivially easy to think of examples of ideas about which everyone, including you, would do the same thing. Say, the idea that Hitler was on the right track and someone should finish the job. If someone posted that on your website, would you be so quick to cry “censorship” at someone rebuking him/her? Would you not rebuke that person yourself? If you do, you’re engaging in the same ethic as that promulgated by the pink flyer.

    1. It’s hard to read this post as anything but the disconnected ranting of a delusional paranoiac

      It’s hard to read that first sentence as anything other than uninformed and rude.

      Notice how I did that without insulting the writer.

      It’s really too bad the above comment is written to confront and provoke rather than to humbly disagree; the underlying ideas are not without merit! They are just buried in a pile of nasty, and so are completely undermined.

  21. Major reason that I was never much of a joiner of any groups or societies is the natural tendency to project rules and regulations to all in the group. It is what they do that makes them a club or group I guess.

    However, I do not say it is wrong to set these rules for the group. It should caution all who think it’s a great idea to join — check it out before you jump in.

    For this group here at Prof. Coyne’s corner, you must have rules and you must accept them or don’t join in. I was in the military at one time and they had lots of rules. You need to like and get along with all those rules or get out at the first opportunity.

    1. I would disagree. I’ve belonged to clubs, all of which had rules. Some I accept as being essential for the running of the club. Some are not and them I would either ignore them or seek to get them changed. While projecting rules and regulations may be a ‘natural tendency’ of some, it’s one that should always be resisted. Sometimes club committees get hijacked by little Hitlers, if the club has enough going for it then it’s worth fighting them. I’d only walk away if the club didn’t offer enough to make it worth the battle.

      [I hasten to add I’m not drawing a comparison with this webpage, it’s Prof Coyne’s and Da Roolz are, I think, all reasonable.]

  22. Without Jerry and WEIT I would be very confused about free speech, I have learned and rethought a lot that don’t match my ‘nice’ environment and reflexive persona. (Well, to a degree, no one is a saint. =D)

    This website is a dangerous place.

  23. Jerry, I love so much of what you do, but I cannot agree with you here. You express a conclusion about the intent of the poster, but I do not find that conclusion supported by the words of the poster. I understand this sign to say that the person who owns that space, their dorm room, will personally not tolerate the disrespect of other persons. In the language of logical discourse, isn’t this essentially the announcement of a lack of toleration for ad hominem attacks? Don’t you feel that you own your web site, and ban people from your site for attacks, either ad hominem or ad felis?

    Aren’t the actions advocated to “try” and “encourage,” and “hold accountable,” the characterization of the effort to try and encourage the speaker to realize their mistake? If someone were to make disparaging remarks in your presence about Jews, wouldn’t you rightly seek to hold that person “accountable” in the same sense that the poster uses that word? But if the same person makes similar remarks directed to an LGBT person, and the LBGT person to whom the remarks are made seeks to respond in the same way as you, that is impermissible censorship?
    You express a conclusion about the intent of the poster, but I do not find that conclusion supported by the words of the poster.

    Is it just that they ask people to put up a poster in their personal living space announcing in advance how they would react that bothers you? It is, after all, their living space, just as your web site is owned by you. I think that, taken as a whole, the poster is intended to make support for LGBT’s more visible, give anti-LGBT people pause to think and generate some social pressure. Isn’t that the kind of thing we expect civil rights movements to do? In any case, if you think the poster is a mistake, doesn’t the poster itself invite that discussion?

    I think you have taken a good idea and just gone too far with it.

    1. A couple of things I’d have to say on your post is that first – a difference between establishing rules on a public internet site and rules that you might want to apply to your house or room. Not saying you cannot have them but it is not the same.

      I would say also, if your sensitivities are such that you would have to post this example on your room at school, it is a little surprising that you actually can come into public view, attend a college and function very well at all. Good luck and best wishes in your career.

      1. Randy,

        1. I agree there is a difference, but not one that matters here. Please state what you think the difference is that allows Jerry to bar persons to comment here at all, but prohibits the more modest warning that the occupant of a dorm room may argue with you.

        2. Evidently you think that persons who support civil rights, and do so in areas they control, are too “sensitive” to support civil rights in areas they do not control. Please provide some known examples and a rational argument for what I see as an unsupported and very silly position.

        3. Btw, isn’t it obvious that the proponents of this action are doing so because dorm rooms have a significant “public” component, within the environment of the dorm? Doesn’t that, by itself, invalidate your second paragraph?

    2. I appreciate the civility of your disagreement; this is a model of how to disagree here. I’ll just say one thing, something expressed by a prior commenter: “The part about ‘trying not to be oppressive in my interactions here, and encouraging others to do the same’ is difficult to interpret.”

      Indeed. What does it mean to “encourage others not to be oppressive”? What does it mean to “make a mistake” for which you’re to be held accountable?

      The problem, it seems to me, is that nearly anything can be considered oppressive to someone, and believe me, I see things that I consider free and potentially valuable discourse on my own campus decried by people as constituting personal oppression and regarded—and banned–as “hate speech.” The only way to avoid being “oppressive” is to say nothing: to avoid any argument that could be construed as “oppressive.”

      There are now a gazillion different viewpoints, for instance, on what “feminism” really means, even among people who consider themselves feminists. And there are cries of “oppression” or “bullying” rife in those battles. Which view is “mistaken”? The only way to deal with these things is to have rational discourse in which people are deserving of civility but ideas are not off limits. Not everyone’s mind will be changed, of course, but it’s my belief that open discourse is the only way to move forward.

    3. I think it’s more the context in which it’s happening that makes it seem worrying. The poster itself is pretty innocuous and apparently, as with most PC stuff, well-meaning. That’s incidentally why I’m in favour of a very boring, low-level political correctness. Political correctness has given us a society where you can’t call someone a ‘paki’ without losing a great deal of respect and good-will. Generally it doesn’t criminalise anyone, it doesn’t deny anyone the right to express themselves. It just points out that individual people also have the right to dislike you, or not want to associate with you, based on what you say. PC is a kind of tacit, societal bulwark against the return of those easy prejudices that were the norm before the rights revolution.
      Since it’s tacit, and therefore quite amorphous, quite difficult to define, people sometimes take it too far – so when two PC axioms, ‘stick up for ethnic minorities’ and ‘oppose bigotry, prejudice and violence’, come into conflict, eg. in the case of Islamic bigotry, prejudice and violence, a lot of PC people feel compelled to discard one axiom or the other and you have the modern-day spectacle of liberals vehemently defending and rationalising the most illiberal of ideologies.
      As a low level rule of thumb(that’s accepted as such) I think PC’s extremely valuable, I just wish liberals didn’t use it as though it’s some kind of well-defined philosophical position because it really isn’t – PC should be present simply as a kind of low-level background hum. In this form it’s simply the general consensus that racist, misogynistic, homophobic, etc. language and behaviour is not something that we want as the norm. It’s not censure, it’s not the denial of another person’s right to express themselves, it’s an attempt to maintain the moral progress that’s been made. There’s a slippery slope on either side – back to the days of easy bigotry on one and forward to an Orwellian nightmare on the other – and it requires vigilance so that we strike the right balance, but I am grateful for the existence of this low-level PC.

  24. Every time this issue comes up can we please point out that this isn’t progressive. We’ve had societies like this in the past and we know it’s a dead-end.

  25. I guess I’m reading this flyer differently than most. Perhaps I’m missing some larger context where censorship of oppressive behavior is bad. All I read regarding censorship in this flyer is “trying not to be oppressive in my interactions and encouraging others to do the same” surrounded by some defeatist rhetoric. If I were to read this in my daily meanderings, I would most likely interpret it as just asking people not to avoid bigotry. I certainly agreencyclopedia with your points, as well a Adam’s. I’m just not sure why they are directed at this flyer. I think civility and tact necessarily require a type of language moderation.

    1. Holy cow, agreencyclopedia. My autospell correct has entered a different dimension where everything in an encyclopedia is agreeable.

    2. I think that one of the problems is that “trying not to be oppressive” doesn’t necessarily mean “trying to avoid bigotry”.

      Sure, it’s perfectly valid to ask people not to “unjustly inflict hardship and constraint” on any minority and (especially as the father of a trans* daughter) I fully support that.

      But too often these days any discussion of subjects and views that offend or upset people in these minorities is seen as “oppressive” and shut down. For example, feminists who don’t think men who have sex changes are real women are labelled “transphobic” and denied a platform.

      Is this the agenda behind this flyer? I don”t know. But I do know that the writer could have been clearer. How about, “I will try my best not to denigrate people or deny them a voice because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, &c., and I expect others who I invite to my room to make the same effort. If I don’t live up to this, tell me and I’ll try to do better in future.” (As I’ve said to my daughter, “Let me know when I’m being an arsehole.”)

      But I’d far rather the eeah had sought a way to encourage people to make their own such declarations, rather asking everyone to display and abide by this flyer, with the implication that if you don’t you’re a bad person.


      1. Another problem would be that “trying not to be oppressive” doesn’t necessarily mean “trying not to be offensive.” And it seems as though most are interpreting it that way and, as you suggested, holding it against the author for not clarifying. Or just ignoring the fact that it’s an interpretation and demonizing the flyer out right.

        1. Well, should we give them the benefit of the doubt? Perhaps.

          But what might be just sloppy writing if this were one student’s own roolz for their dorm room shouldn’t be excused in something prepared by a society and thrust under everyone’s doors; it behooves the eeah to be clear and precise.

          Particularly as the censorious use of “oppressive” is, sadly, far more common amongst young social justice activists these days. Or so it seems to this postgraduate-educated affluent middle-class white hetero cis-male. (Did I check enough of my privileges there?)


      2. I think a simple poster declaring support for the LBGT community would’ve been enough, and the act of posting it in your room would implicitly say most of what’s said on the actual poster anyway, only without the nannying, slightly creepy pre-emptive admonition.

  26. I wonder how different the flier would be if it said something along the lines of:
    “In recognition of the prevailing attitudes in our society prejudiced against homosexuality, I want to let people know that this is a space where homosexuals should be made to feel welcome. In the understanding that we reflect our cultural norms, and that we can subconsciously (or unconscious) reflect prejudices hidden from our conscious selves, an open space like this would encourage anyone here to be open when we inadvertently act in any way prejudiced. We feel it’s important for others to recognise that the difficulties facing LGBT people, and encourage others to similarly think about how their behaviour could contribute to the very real discrimination LGBT people face.”

    I wonder with language like “higher standard” or “held accountable” removed, if the same message and the same attitude of tolerance and mindfulness of the struggles LGBT people face can be just as effectively articulated.

    1. It would certainly sound more acceptable to me. “held accountable” is, to me, the ultimate in contemptible weasel words.

      “revenge” is not PC, so instead after any accident “we just want somebody to be held accountable” (it usually doesn’t matter much who, just so long as there’s a witch-hunt and some poor bastard of a scapegoat is dragged out to be destroyed as a ritual sacrifice to assuage our hurt feelings).

      Excuse my cynicism, for which I’m quite ready to be held accountable…

  27. I am totally against religion but got kicked out of a FaceBook group which promoted itself as a “safe space for atheists” because I challenged some of the racism behind Islamophobia. While another rationalist/secularist group is full of delicate flowers who demand trigger warnings and clamp down on suggestions that moderate Muslims should be more vocal in combatting and condemning Islamic extremism.

  28. I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more ridiculous, onomatopoeically jarring acronym in all my life. It could be something from a Chris Morris programme.

  29. Shame on people like Ezra Klein and Melissa Harris Perry for celebrating attacks ion free speech and due process in the name of progressivism. That lot are burning liberal politics to the ground.

  30. It is a kind of weasel talk. ‘Safe’ space sounds reasonable. A response such as “So you you don’t want me/we to feel safe” has hijacked valid use of ‘safe’.
    To make the unreasonable sound reasonable, there is a lot of it going around.

  31. I remember my wonderful philosophy teacher, Mary Paroski, in 1976 at Mountain View Junior College in Oak Cliff, Texas (a stone’s throw from Dallas Baptist College) bravely inviting “Dixie Leber” from the Dallas KKK to speak.

    She was almost beat back in this effort. Sensitivities on the right and the left, white and black were aroused, but Mary withstood not on the grounds of any “correctness” or “censorship”, but on pure rhetoric, reason and logic.

    She calmed my fellow students with the admonition that we were to take what we had learned from her class thus far, listen to Leber, apply, and decide on that basis alone.

    The whole school was invited, overflow in the auditorium, and after the “lecture” from Dixie, the audience Q&A went from outrage to laughter very quickly, mostly on the incisive questioning from Mary’s students.

    Reason will out.

    Mary would have loved this picture:,87171,87174#msg-87174

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