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Censorship Is an Unjustifiable Privilege – Article by Chris Marchese

Censorship Is an Unjustifiable Privilege – Article by Chris Marchese

The New Renaissance HatChris Marchese

Free Speech Is about the Power to Challenge the Status Quo

Free speech is the great equalizer in our society. It doesn’t matter about your race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, class — you get the point — the First Amendment protects your right to speak freely. Despite this, some student activists — perceiving unequal social conditions, including at institutions of higher education — are fighting for social change at the expense of free speech. The sad irony, however, is that free speech only becomes privileged when it’s restricted, which is why free speech must remain a right equally applicable to all.To understand why, consider Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s commencement speech at Wellesley College in 2015. In it, she said, “You, because of your beautiful Wellesley degree, have become privileged, no matter your background.” But, she added, “Sometimes you will need to push [this privilege] aside in order to see clearly,” because “privilege blinds” you to those who are different.

Students calling for speech restrictions are particularly blinded by their privilege, which leaves them unable to see the unjust privilege that restricting speech would further confer upon them. This is dangerous and counterproductive to their cause.

Restricting Speech Is an Unjust Privilege
First, to support restrictions on certain kinds of speech, activists must have (or at least project) unwavering confidence in both themselves and the system in which they are operating — the university in this case — to discern what’s offensive. Even if they see gray areas in expression, they are forced to present issues in absolutist terms if they are to have the perceived moral authority to police and punish those who offend.

Turning again to Adichie’s speech, we can see why this is wrong. As she said, “I knew from … the class privilege I had of growing up in an educated family, that it sometimes blinded me, that I was not always as alert to the nuances of people who were different from me.”

Sometimes, people are genuinely racist (though what’s considered racist varies widely from place to place) and their speech is identifiable as such. But what about the student who isn’t aware of the offense he or she may cause by wearing a sombrero at a party, which some consider cultural appropriation? How about the student who is aware but disagrees that it’s offensive? Should he or she be censored and punished based upon some activists’ standards of right and wrong? Different people have different experiences and different views. Because of this, nuance matters.

Second, while it can be tempting to argue that free speech maintains inequality because it protects offensive speech, this argument fails to distinguish between people and their views. That is, when you censor people — even for offensive speech — you are denying them equal access to, and protection of, the First Amendment and you are doing so from a position of privilege.  The right to free speech gives everyone an equal right to voice his or her opinions — but it does not mean that such opinions will win or even register in any given forum.

Restrictions on free speech, on the other hand, make both people and ideas unequal by subjugating them to someone else’s understanding of what’s right and therefore allowable. Indeed, to assume one’s views are so infallible as to warrant imposition on others and to assume there is no legitimate debate left to be had on certain topics — and the language used in discussing those topics — is a privilege that oppresses not only the hated racist, but the honest dissenter and everyone in between.

Lastly, some students claim that free speech is about power — that it enables and sustains privilege for some but not all. Let’s be clear: free speech is about power. It’s about having the power to challenge the status quo, question society’s deeply held beliefs, and call others to task. But free speech only becomes privileged when it’s restricted.

Understanding the Would-Be Censors
Of course words can have consequences. (If they couldn’t, nobody would bother speaking.) It would be hypocritical to argue that offensive speech will never cause harm, at least to feelings or interests, while also maintaining that speech is so vital it requires robust protection. One could also argue that the marketplace of ideas — like all markets — has negative externalities. The most evident, as campus activists assert, is that offensive speech is protected and those it’s directed at — typically thought to be minorities — are disproportionately burdened by it.

Moreover, restricting or punishing speech provides instant gratification. It’s an immediate and swift response to views one finds abhorrent. It gives the impression that justice has been served. For those who believe society is stacked against them, it’s a small beacon of hope. Restricting speech, then, isn’t seen as infringing upon someone else’s liberty, but rather righting a wrong. The emotional appeal is understandably strong.

But this is not right.

A Just Alternative
The best way to counter hateful, offensive speech is with more speech. Think of it this way: restricting speech treats the symptoms of bigotry by making its manifestations less visible. Conversely, more speech acts as a cure by attacking the underlying disease. The former method may seem effective in the short term, but it’s dangerous in the long run.

As FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff has argued, when offensive speech is banned, it drives those with potentially dangerous views (however determined) underground, making them harder to identify, while also potentially making them more extreme. It also gives a false sense of social progress. And who ultimately pays the price? The people the bans were meant to help, when it turns out society wasn’t as friendly as they believed.

Countering hateful speech with more speech is not seamless. It’s hard work, and it’s not instant. It doesn’t guarantee the flushing of all bigoted and hateful opinions from society, and it often works slowly. Nevertheless, it is the only method that is both just and that makes progress last. Engaging with people who express views different from one’s own moves beyond the superficial to challenge core beliefs, assumptions, and biases — and can help a person identify and recognize his or her own. Consider the case of Megan and Grace Phelps, granddaughters of the pastor who founded the Westboro Baptist Church. After interacting with a Jewish man by email and on Twitter, the sisters decided their views were wrong and decided to leave the WBC, which also meant being excommunicated by their family.

The marketplace of ideas won’t always work this way, and not everyone is destined to see the light. But restricting speech is a privileged response that neither makes society more equal nor has any tangible benefit other than providing a false sense of justice, which, in the long term, only fuels underlying problems. We cannot afford to be blind to this reality.

None of this should be construed as a plea to accept the status quo or to disengage. Rather, it’s a call for college students who support restricting speech to recognize their own privilege. Education is a gift, and college students should use the privilege it confers to advocate for change. But this means realizing free speech is not the enemy of progress, and that restricting it will not make society more equal. To do otherwise — to restrict and punish speech — is to be so willfully blind to privilege as to become the oppressors.

Chris Marchese is a Senior Financial Analyst at Meritor.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Safe Spaces Can’t Be Diverse – And Vice Versa – Article by Kevin Currie-Knight

Safe Spaces Can’t Be Diverse – And Vice Versa – Article by Kevin Currie-Knight

The New Renaissance Hat
Kevin Currie-Knight

I’m a fan of the LGBT center on the campus where I teach. It offers a space where gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students can be among students, faculty, and staff without fear of harassment, bullying, or negative judgment. There, they do not have to worry about passing (pretending to be straight) or covering (having to signal to others that they are still “normal” despite who they are).

But do you know what spaces like this are not? Diverse.

Or rather, they are not diverse in the types of attitudes permitted to exist there. One cannot, say, believe that homosexuality is a sin and feel welcome at an LGBT center. One cannot believe that transgender people are mentally ill and find LGBT centers to be congenial.

This lack of diversity is not wrong; it is by design and has a good purpose. A safe space is one where people with certain identities that don’t fit in elsewhere can find safety through homogeneity and solidarity.

We don’t need to dismiss either ideal to recognize that a space’s safety and its diversity will be inversely related. The more you have of one, the less you must have of the other.

But you can have spaces and contexts that allow for either ideal, or varying degrees of compromise between them — unless activists succeed in their current quest to convert entire universities into safe spaces.

The Yale case is well known by now. Erika Christakis, a lecturer in early child development, voiced concern in an email to Yale students and residence-life folks urging them to rethink the university’s heavy-handed approach to advising students on which Halloween costumes to avoid. Her note ignited controversy and protest on campus — with some even calling for Christakis’s resignation — because the possibility of students wearing offensive Halloween costumes makes the campus a potentially unsafe space.

In another recent example, the University of Missouri has been experiencing protests regarding alleged racist speech and treatment of minority students. During one of these protests, a journalist trying to cover the event was evidently shouted down and intimidated because his (journalistic) presence at the protest allegedly threatened the protesters’ safe space. (Think about how odd it is to describe the site of a vigorous protest as a safe space).

One journalist described a video of the events as follows:

In the video of Tim Tai trying to carry out his ESPN assignment, I see the most vivid example yet of activists twisting the concept of “safe space” in a most confounding way. They have one lone student surrounded. They’re forcibly preventing him from exercising a civil right. At various points, they intimidate him. Ultimately, they physically push him. But all the while, they are operating on the premise, or carrying on the pretense, that he is making them unsafe.

If people who regularly find their campuses (or other places) to be inhospitable, it may do them good to have social spaces where they are assured some level of relief, probably with people they are comfortable with. But think about what that means for diversity.

Increasing diversity is another aspiration at universities and other organizations, but safe spaces demand that the people in the space have a certain degree of homogeneity. For Yale to be a safe space, the university must disallow a diversity of Halloween costumes.

Why did the Missouri protesters suggest that Tai’s presence threatened to turn their protest into an unsafe space? Because there was a possibility that the narrative this journalist would construct might not be one the homogeneous protesters would approve of. Tai threatened the homogeneity and solidarity of the protest.

Let’s go back to the example of LGBT centers. That these students have somewhere they can go where they do not feel pressures to hide or “tone down” their identities is important, and any society that promotes freedom of association will have many such centers, whether official or not. But the only way for an entire university to become a safe space for LGBT students is to sacrifice diversity by, for example, demanding that religious students not believe (at least openly) that homosexuality is sinful. The converse is also true: LGBT centers could no longer function as safe spaces for LGBT students if they became sites of more diversity, where those religious students could regularly voice their beliefs.

Diversity cannot thrive in a world that is one big safe space.

Why? Because diversity means difference. Difference means that people will invariably see things in different ways, and we will sometimes anger each other. It’s not a bug, but a feature. To eliminate the possibility that some of us could deeply offend others of us would be to require everyone to live only in ways acceptable to all.

Diversity means a world where black-power advocates can live openly and in ways that anger white people — and where white-power advocates can live openly and thus anger black people. A world of diversity is one where people with different tastes, comfort levels, and senses of humor can wear Halloween costumes that may offend others.

The best resolution is to allow people on college campuses and elsewhere to create safe spaces. If we believe others’ Halloween costumes may deeply offend us, or that people may say derogatory and racist things to us, we can go to one of those spaces. But leave the university as a diverse space — don’t force it to become a safe space.

Diversity and emotional safety are values at odds with each other. They can coexist in tension, but the expansion of one can only come at the expense of the other.

Kevin Currie-Knight teaches in East Carolina University’s Department of Special Education, Foundations, and Research. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Where Is Speech Most Restricted in America? – Article by George C. Leef

Where Is Speech Most Restricted in America? – Article by George C. Leef

The New Renaissance HatGeorge C. Leef

Tolerance of speech and thought is being throttled here first

A good argument can be made that free speech is least safe on private college campuses.

At public universities, the First Amendment applies, thus giving students, faculty members, and everyone else protection against official censorship or punishment for saying things that some people don’t want said.

A splendid example of that was brought to a conclusion earlier this year at Valdosta State University, where the school’s president went on a vendetta against a student who criticized his plans for a new parking structure — and was clobbered in court. (I discussed that case here.)

But the First Amendment does not apply to private colleges and universities because they don’t involve governmental action. Oddly, while all colleges that accept federal student aid money must abide by a vast host of regulations, the Supreme Court ruled in Rendell-Baker v. Kohn that acceptance of such money does not bring them under the umbrella of the First Amendment.

At private colleges, the protection for freedom of speech has to be found (at least, in most states) in the implicit contract the school enters into with each incoming student. Ordinarily, the school holds itself out as guaranteeing certain things about itself and life on campus in its handbook and other materials. If school officials act in ways that depart significantly from the reasonable expectations it created, then the college can be held liable.

As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) puts it, “There is a limit to ‘bait-and-switch’ techniques that promise academic freedom and legal equality but deliver authoritarianism and selective censorship.”

With that legal background in mind, consider a recent case at Colorado College. If Franz Kafka or George Orwell had toyed with a similar plot, they’d probably have rejected it as too far-fetched.

Back in November, a student, Thaddeus Pryor, wrote the following reply to a comment (#blackwomenmatter) on the social media site Yik Yak: “They matter, they’re just not hot.” Another student, offended that someone was not taking things seriously, complained to college officials. After ascertaining that the comment had been written by Pryor, the Dean of Students summoned him to a meeting.

Pryor said that he was just joking. What he did not realize is that there are now many things that must not be joked about on college campuses. Some well-known American comedians have stopped playing on our campuses for exactly that reason, as Clark Conner noted in this Pope Center article.

In a subsequent letter, Pryor was informed by the Senior Associate Dean of Students that his anonymous six word comment violated the school’s policy against Abusive Behavior and Disruption of College Activities.

Did that comment actually abuse anyone? Did it in any way disrupt a college activity?

A reasonable person would say “of course not,” but many college administrators these days are not reasonable. They are social justice apparatchiks, eager to use their power to punish perceived enemies of progress like Thaddeus Pryor.

For having joked in a way that offended the wrong people, Pryor was told that he was suspended from Colorado College until June, 2017. Moreover, he is banned from setting foot on campus during that time. And in the final “pound of flesh” retribution, the school intends to prohibit him from taking any college credits elsewhere.

With FIRE’s able assistance, Pryor is appealing his punishment. Perhaps the college’s attorney will advise the president to back off since its own “Freedom of Expression” policy hardly suggests to students that they will be subject to severe punishment for merely making offensive jokes on a social media site. If the case were to go to trial, there is a strong likelihood that a jury would find Colorado College in breach of contract.

Even if the school retreats from its astounding overreaction to Pryor’s comment, the administration should worry that alums who aren’t happy that their school has fallen under the spell of thought control will stop supporting it.

This incident is emblematic of a widespread problem in American higher education today: administrators think it’s their job to police what is said on campus, even comments on a social media app. Many colleges and universities have vague speech codes and “harassment” policies that invite abuse; those positions tend to attract mandarins who are not scholars and do not value free speech and unfettered debate. They are committed to “progressive” causes and will gladly use their power to silence or punish anyone who doesn’t go along.

American colleges have been suffering through a spate of ugly protests this fall. Among the demands the protesters usually make is that the school mandate “diversity training” for faculty and staff. Instead of that, what most schools really need is tolerance training, with a special emphasis on the importance of free speech. Those who don’t “get it” should be advised to find other employment.

George Leef is the former book review editor of The Freeman. He is director of research at the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

The Intellectual Intolerance Behind “Check Your Privilege” – Article by Gary M. Galles

The Intellectual Intolerance Behind “Check Your Privilege” – Article by Gary M. Galles

The New Renaissance Hat
Gary M. Galles
July 19, 2015

A decade ago, no one had ever been told to “check your privilege.” Now it commands an appreciable “market share” in academia and social justice rhetoric. But it does so despite sharply opposed interpretations of its meaning. In fact, its expanded footprint is partly because of its ambiguity.

It Could Be an Invitation to Debate

In a sense, “check your privilege” largely amounts to “check your premises” behind your views, and many are willing to recognize that such a reminder can be useful in advancing conversations about social issues.

However, I question whether people are so bereft of concern for, or understanding of, one another that they need repetitive “check your privileges” reminders that imply they would believe more accurately and act more effectively if only they were more empathetic. I tend to agree with Adam Smith, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it … we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others.

Further, repeatedly sermonizing to fix people as a way of “uplifting” them becomes little more than nagging, and any insight it may add gets crowded out. In the same way, repeatedly invoking “check your privilege” tends to destroy its usefulness leaving increased irritation and disharmony.

But the Phrase Could Simply Mean “Shut Up”

And when does “check your privilege” become code for “be quiet” rather than “evaluate your premises”? “Check your privilege” is about shutting down discussion when the user is making the assertion that you are hopelessly confused in your understanding, and that your opinions amount to aggression (whether “micro-” or “macro-”). This position was wellarticulated decades ago by Robert Heinlein, in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress:

Where do you start explaining when a man’s words show there isn’t anything he understands about [a] subject, [but] instead is loaded with preconceptions that don’t fit facts and [he] doesn’t even know …?

The assertion of your hopeless confusion then becomes the basis for claims that, unless you are a member of some accepted victimized class, you must be part of the oppressor class. Therefore, as Max Borders put it,

Your rights and opinions are invalid and you have no real complaints or suffering because you belong to X group. Or, more to the point, you are obligated to pay because people who look like you in some ways did bad things at some point.

In other words, others assert that they don’t need to listen to you, much less respect your arguments.

The Ad Hominem Attack

That leap involves several logical failings. Included in that list is the idea that any guilt for what was true of some members of an arbitrarily defined class or group (rather than treating people as the individuals they are) at some point in time passes on to every current and future member of that class or group. In addition, it incorporates the ad hominem fallacy that because you are judged as bad or part of an oppressor class, your argument is false, while conversely, their self-defined goodness and non-oppression means theirs must be true, both of which are unrelated to the logical validity of an argument.

Given that “check your privileges” could mean either “remember to be empathetic, so we can better understand and help” or “we can disregard your beliefs and violate your rights,” how can we tell which one is intended?

Where confusion reigns, to better understand and help requires the confusion to be replaced with clear, accurate understanding. That, in turn, requires a serious, ongoing “give and take” conversation.

However, when “check your privilege” is used to preemptively cut off conversation by stopping those who disagree from any chance to be heard, much less to rebut their demonization and targeting, no improvement in either empathy or results can result. So the key to evaluating “check your privilege” is to ask what would be entailed if it was intended to advance such a serious conversation.

How Real Dialogue Happens

Importantly, any conversation would not stop at “watch your privileges.” It would only begin there. By itself, the phrase says you are wrong in your understanding or views, but it leaves how completely unspecified, beyond having something to do with membership in some allegedly dominant or privileged group. Stopping the conversation there leaves “check your privileges” as an insult, without any ability to clarify understanding or reduce disagreements or disharmony.

Progress toward better understanding and results would require several more steps.

It would start by precisely specifying what faulty premises, assumptions, or arguments someone supposedly holds, either included or excluded inappropriately. Then it would explain why it is inappropriate for the issue being considered. It would lay out the correct or appropriate premise that would take its place and articulate the reasons why.

Building on that foundation, it would show how the “new and improved” premises would change one’s conclusions. Consequently, it would lay out the appropriate remedy based on the alternative analysis. In the process, it would have to explain how the proposed remedy cannot be explained solely on a narrowly self-interested “more for me” basis, completely apart from the argument offered, as part of laying out the new special privileges that would be created for those put forward as victims. It would also have to explain how others will be affected in order to address the asserted problem, including whether there would be coercive impositions on members of the supposedly dominant or victimizer class who had nothing to do with the “sins of the fathers.”

When “check your privilege” means think more carefully about others’ circumstances, which may be far different than yours, and to be empathetic, it can be useful in advancing our potential for mutual understanding. But it has to be only the beginning of a much farther-reaching discussion to bear fruit — a discussion which, carefully and earnestly pursued, would lead us back to the self-ownership and voluntary arrangements of liberty.

In contrast, when “check your privilege” is used as a magic phrase to peremptorily end “social justice” discussions, it is the assertion of a special privilege for some to be allowed to define themselves as white hats and those who disagree as black hats, without ever having to make a real argument. It also allows users to turn it into an epithet of social demonization to try to impose their “solutions,” always at the expense of the supposed black hats. In the process, it undermines social cooperation by undermining the rights upon which it is built.

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. He is the author of The Apostle of Peace: The Radical Mind of Leonard Read. Send him mail. See Gary Galles’s article archives.

This article was published on and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Blurred Lines: The Humanitarian Threat to Free Speech – Article by Aaron Tao

Blurred Lines: The Humanitarian Threat to Free Speech – Article by Aaron Tao

The New Renaissance HatAaron Tao
June 25, 2015

“Think of liberalism … as a collection of ideas or principles which go to make up an attitude or ‘habit of mind.’” – Arthur A. Ekirch

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville was keen to observe that “once the Americans have taken up an idea, whether it be well or ill founded, nothing is more difficult than to eradicate it from their minds.”

Reflecting upon my experience as a first-generation immigrant who grew up in the United States, I concur with Tocqueville; this inherent feature of the culture and character of the American people holds true even today.

In America, there are no sacred cows, no one is above criticism, and no one has the final say on any issue. It is worth emphasizing that today, the United States stands virtually alone in the international community in upholding near-absolute freedom of personal expression, largely thanks to the constitutional protections provided by the First Amendment.

But without certain internalized values and principles, the legal bulwark of the First Amendment is nothing more than a parchment barrier.

As cliché as it may sound, it is important to recognize that our cherished freedom to think, speak, write, and express ourselves should not be taken for granted. Defending the principle of free speech is a perennial conflict that has to be fought in the court of public opinion here and abroad.

Unfortunately, a number of recent developments have greatly alarmed civil libertarians and may very well carry long-term negative repercussions for the United States as a free and open society.

In his new book, Freedom from Speech, Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and tireless free speech advocate, highlights a troubling cultural phenomenon: the blurring of physical safety with psychological and ideological comfort.

It is a disturbing trend that is not limited to the United States:

People all over the globe are coming to expect emotional and intellectual comfort as though it were a right. This is precisely what you would expect when you train a generation to believe that they have a right not to be offended. Eventually, they stop demanding freedom of speech and start demanding freedom from speech.

On the other side of Atlantic, Great Britain is undergoing what one writer describes as a “slow death of free speech.” The land of Milton is now home to luminaries who wish to reinstate Crown licensing of the press (not seen since 1695!).

Meanwhile, ordinary people face jail time for callous tweeting. In British universities, student-driven campaigns have successfully shut down debates and banned pop songs, newspapers, and even philosophy clubs.

While the United States is fortunate enough to have the First Amendment prevent outright government regulation of the press, cultural attitudes play a greater role in maintaining a healthy civil society.

Lukianoff reserves special criticism for American higher education for “neglecting to teach the intellectual habits that promote debate and discussion, tolerance for views we hate, epistemic humility, and genuine pluralism.”

Within academia, “trigger warnings” and “safe places” are proliferating. In a truly Bizarro twist, it has now come to the point that faculty members are defending individual rights and due process and decrying mob rule, while their students run off in the opposite direction.

We now hear on a regular basis of campus outrages involving a controversial speaker or perceived injustice, and the “offended” parties responding with a frenzied social media crusade or a real-world attempt to shame, bully, browbeat, censor, or otherwise punish the offender.

A small sampling from this season include attempts to ban screenings of American Sniper at the University of Michigan and the University of Maryland, resolutions to create a Stasi-like “microaggression” reporting system at Ithaca College, and the controversy involving AEI scholar Christina Hoff Sommers speaking at Oberlin College.

These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.

With the endless stream of manufactured outrages, perhaps it is fitting that George Mason University law professor David Bernstein would raise the question, “Where and when did this ‘makes me feel unsafe’ thing start?”

My personal hypothesis: When postmodernism found itself a new home on Tumblr, spread across the left-wing blogosphere, became reinforced by mobs and echo-chambers, and spilled into the real world.

Luckily, not all progressives have sacrificed the basic principles of liberalism to the altar of radical identity politics and political correctness. One liberal student at NYU courageously pointed out the grave dangers posed by the ideology embraced by many of his peers:

This particular brand of millennial social justice advocacy is destructive to academia, intellectual honesty, and true critical thinking and open mindedness. We see it already having a profound impact on the way universities act and how they approach curriculum. …

The version of millennial social justice advocacy that I have spoken about — one that uses Identity Politics to balkanize groups of people, engenders hatred between groups, willingly lies to push agendas, manipulates language to provide immunity from criticism, and that publicly shames anyone who remotely speaks some sort of dissent from the overarching narrative of the orthodoxy — is not admirable.

It is deplorable. It appeals to the basest of human instincts: fear and hatred. It is not an enlightened or educated position to take. History will not look kindly on this Orwellian, authoritarian perversion of social justice that has taken social media and millennials by storm over the past few years.

I, too, am convinced that these activists, with their MO of hysterical crusades, are one of today’s biggest threats to free speech, open inquiry, and genuine tolerance, at least on college campuses. The illiberal climate fostered by these their ideologues seems to be spreading throughout academia and is continuing to dominate the headlines.

As of this writing, Northwestern professor (and self-described feminist) Laura Kipnis is undergoing a Kafkaesque Title IX inquisition for writing a column in the Chronicle of Higher Education and making comments on Twitter that offended a number of students. The aggrieved mobilized in full force to have her punished under the federal sex discrimination law.

These groups and their tactics represent what Jonathan Rauch would describe as the “humanitarian” challenge to free speech. In his must-read book, Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Rauch identified how these “humanitarians” sought to prevent “offense” to “oppressed and historically marginalized” peoples. In the name of “compassion,” words became conflated with physical action.

As speech codes spread and the definition of “harassment” (reading a book in public, for instance) became broader within the bureaucracy of academia, an “offendedness sweepstakes” was cultivated and turned into the norm.

Rauch’s book was published in 1993, but his diagnosis and arguments still apply today, if not more, in the age of social media when the “offendedness sweepstakes” are amplified to new levels.

Nowadays, PC grievance mongers can organize much more effectively and more often than not, get rewarded for their efforts. The future of a free society looks very bleak should these types become a dominant force on the political landscape. I can’t help but shiver at the prospect of seeing the chronically-offended eggshells of my generation becoming tomorrow’s legislators and judges. The chilling effects are already being felt.

Even as numerous challenges emerge from all corners, free speech has unparalleled potential for human liberation in the Digital Age. The eternal battle is still that of liberty versus power, and the individual versus the collective. I remain confident that truth can still prevail in the marketplace of ideas. It is for this reason we should treasure and defend the principles, practices, and institutions that make it possible.

Last month marked the birthday of the brilliant F.A. Hayek, the gentleman-scholar who made landmark contributions to fields of economics, philosophy, political science, and law, and established his name as the twentieth century’s most eminent defender of classical liberalism in the face of the collectivist zeitgeist.

For all his accomplishments, Hayek practiced and urged epistemological humility (a position that should be natural to any defender of free speech) in his Nobel lecture. Looking back on his life’s work, Hayek was highly skeptical of the nebulous concept of “social justice” and its totalitarian implications. He even went as far as to devote an entire volume of his magnum opus, Law, Legislation, and Liberty, to completely demolish The Mirage of Social Justice.

Hayek concluded:

What we have to deal with in the case of “social justice” is simply a quasireligious superstition of the kind which we should respectfully leave in peace so long as it merely makes those happy who hold it, but which we must fight when it becomes the pretext of coercing other men [emphasis added].

And the prevailing belief in “social justice” is at present probably the gravest threat to most other values of a free civilization.

Hayek did not predict that “social justice” would be first used to silence dissent before moving on to its long-term agenda, but it would not have surprised him. Weak ideas always grasp for the censor in the face of sustained criticism — and feeble ideas made strong by politics are the most dangerous of all.

Humanitarians with guillotines can be found from the French Revolution to present day. Modern day defenders of individual liberty would do well to heed Hayek’s warning and resist the Siren song of “social justice,” the rallying cry of collectivists who cannot realize their vision without coercion.

Aaron Tao is the Marketing Coordinator and Assistant Editor of The Beacon at the Independent Institute.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Microaggressions and Microwonders – Are Mountains Out of Molehills Proof the World’s Getting Better? – Article by Steven Horwitz

Microaggressions and Microwonders – Are Mountains Out of Molehills Proof the World’s Getting Better? – Article by Steven Horwitz

The New Renaissance Hat
Steven Horwitz
May 27, 2015

A recurring theme of recent human history is that the less of something bad we see in the world around us, the more outrage we generate about the remaining bits.

For example, in the 19th century, outrage about child labor grew as the frequency of child labor was shrinking. Economic forces, not legislation, had raised adult wages to a level at which more and more families did not need additional income from children to survive, and children gradually withdrew from the labor force. As more families enjoyed having their children at home or in school longer, they became less tolerant of those families whose situations did not allow them that luxury, and the result was the various moral crusades, and then laws, against child labor.

We have seen the same process at work with cigarette smoking in the United States. As smoking has declined over the last generation or two, we have become ever less tolerant of those who continue to smoke. Today, that outrage continues in the form of new laws against vaping and e-cigarettes.

The ongoing debate over “rape culture” is another manifestation of this phenomenon. During the time that reasonably reliable statistics on rape in the United States have been collected, rape has never been less frequent than it is now, and it is certainly not as institutionalized as a practice in the Western world as it was in the past. Yet despite this decline — or in fact because of it — our outrage at the rape that remains has never been higher.

The talk of the problem of “microaggressions” seems to follow this same pattern. The term refers to the variety of verbal and nonverbal forms of communication that are said to constitute disrespect for particular groups, especially those who have been historically marginalized. So, for example, the use of exclusively masculine pronouns might be construed as a “microaggression” against women, or saying “ladies and gentlemen” might be seen as a microaggression against transsexuals. The way men take up more physical space on a train or bus, or the use of the phrase “walk-only zones” (which might offend the wheelchair-bound) to describe pedestrian crossways, are other examples.

Those who see themselves as the targets of microaggressions have often become very effective entrepreneurs of outrage in trying to parlay these perceived slights into indications of much more pervasive problems of sexism or racism and the like. Though each microaggression individually might not seem like much, they add up. So goes the argument.

I don’t want to totally dismiss the underlying point here, as it is certainly true that people say and do things (often unintentionally) that others will find demeaning, but I do want to note how this cultural phenomenon fits the pattern identified above. We live in a society in which the races and genders (and classes!) have never been more equal. Really profound racism and sexism is far less prominent today than it was 50 or 100 years ago. In a country where the president is a man of color and where one of our richest entertainers is a woman of color, it’s hard to argue that there hasn’t been significant progress.

But it is exactly that progress that leads to the outrage over microaggressions. Having steadily pushed back the more overt and damaging forms of inequality, and having stigmatized them as morally offensive, we have less tolerance for the smaller bits that remain. As a result, we take small behaviors that are often completely unintended as offenses and attempt to magnify them into the moral equivalent of past racism or sexism. Even the co-opting of the word “aggression” to describe what is, in almost all cases, behavior that is completely lacking in actual aggression is an attempt to magnify the moral significance of those behaviors.

Even if we admit that some of such behaviors may well reflect various forms of animus, there are two problems with the focus on microaggressions.

First, where do we draw the line? Once these sorts of behaviors are seen as slights with the moral weight of racism or sexism, we can expect to see anyone and everyone who feels slighted about anything someone else said or did declare it a “microaggression” and thereby try to capture the same moral high ground.

We are seeing this already, especially on college campuses, where even the mere discussion of controversial ideas that might make some groups uncomfortable is being declared to be a microaggression. In some cases this situation is leading faculty to stop teaching anything beyond the bland.

Second, moral equivalence arguments can easily backfire. For example, if we, as some feminists were trying to do in the 1980s, treat pornography as the equivalent of rape, hoping to make porn look worse, we might end up causing people to treat real physical rape less seriously given that they think porn is largely harmless.

So it goes with microaggressions: if we try to raise men taking up too much room on a bus seat into a serious example of sexism, then we risk people reacting by saying, “Well, if that’s what sexism is, then why should I really worry too much about sexism?” The danger is that when far more troubling examples of sexism or racism appear (for example, the incarceration rates of African-American men), we might be inclined to treat them less seriously.

It is tempting to want to flip the script on the entrepreneurs of microaggression outrages and start to celebrate their outrages as evidence of how far we’ve come. If men who take the middle armrest on airplanes (as obnoxious as that might be) are a major example of gender inequality, we have come far indeed. But as real examples of sexism and racism and the like do still exist, I’d prefer another strategy to respond to the talk of microaggressions.

Let’s spend more time celebrating the “microwonders” of the modern world. Just as microaggression talk magnifies the small pockets of inequality left and seems to forget the larger story of social progress, so does our focus on large social and economic problems in general cause us to forget the larger story of progress that is often manifested in tiny ways.

We live in the future that prior generations only imagined. We have the libraries of the world in our pockets. We have ways of easily connecting with friends and strangers across the world. We can have goods and even services of higher quality and lower cost, often tailored to our particular desires, delivered to our door with a few clicks of a button. We have medical advances that make our lives better in all kinds of small ways. We have access to a variety of food year-round that no king in history had. The Internet brings us happiness every day through the ability to watch numerous moments of humor, human triumph, and joy.

Even as we recognize that the focus on microaggressions means we have not yet eliminated every last trace of inequality, we should also recognize that it means we’ve come very far. And we should not hesitate to celebrate the microwonders of progress that often get overlooked in our laudable desire to continue to repair an imperfect world.

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Microfoundations and Macroeconomics: An Austrian Perspective, now in paperback.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

All You Need Is Toleration – Article by Max Borders

All You Need Is Toleration – Article by Max Borders

The New Renaissance Hat
Max Borders
January 28, 2014

Truth carries within itself an element of coercion.
Hannah Arendt

Identity politics has come to the freedom movement. But does it fit?

Many newly minted libertarians have come out of America’s indoctrination factories feeling a mix of guilt and sanctimony. They’re still libertarians, but they admonish you to “check your privilege” and caution that you may unwittingly be perpetuating a culture of oppression.

Libertarianism alone is not enough, they say.

Our tradition, they urge, needs now to find common cause with various fronts in the movement for “social justice”—struggles against racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, weightism, classism, and homophobia. In that movement, the unit of injustice is the group. Still, joining up means libertarians can attract more young people while forging a more complex, ethically rich political philosophy.

In short, we ought to hitch our wagons to what one might call the “victimhood-industrial complex.” If we don’t, some warn, the millennials will all run to progressivism.

Now if you don’t think this victimhood-industrial complex exists, ask Jonathan Rauch. In his 1993 book Kindly Inquisitors, he argued that free speech was quickly being lost to politically correct censors—especially in higher education. Twenty-plus years later, Rauch says, free speech in the academy is virtually dead:

Unlike most workplaces, universities are at the heart of intellectual life, and so the bureaucratization of speech controls there is more disturbing. In American universities, the hostile-environment and discriminatory-harassment doctrines have become part of the administrative furniture.

And for their student bodies, so also have diversity training, sensitivity seminars, and entire majors devoted to inculcating the victimhood ethosall of which allows victim groups to justify a dangerous promiscuity with power. That’s one reason libertarians should take caution.

Prime Virtue

To take any moral high ground on matters of subjection, we don’t need to adopt the language or agenda of the victimhood-industrial complex. Indeed, that complex (double entendre intended) is part of progressive intellectuals’ designs on power. It is intended to fragment people along contrived, collectivist lines. And we can do better.

I normally don’t make arguments based on ideological purity, but here’s an area in which pragmatic and philosophical considerations prompt us to look to our own tradition for answers. That is, we libertarians already have a virtue that works. It captures the best of our humane concern for others and discards the bromides, the claptrap, the unearned guilt of the dangerously collectivist “social justice” movement.

That virtue is toleration.

Toleration is what separates libertarianism from competing doctrines, at least when it comes to society and culture. If some principle of non-harm orients our political compass, toleration is a moral guide. I realize that might sound a little funny to anyone who’s spent five minutes on Facebook with a rabid Rothbardian. And, of course, self-styled progressives bandy the term about, too. But the classical liberal form is the original—and most resilient—sense of toleration (or tolerance), because it does not carry with it any baggage that might corrode the rule of law, or the freedoms of expression and conscience.

What has liberated great swaths of humanity is not just the idea that people should be as free as possible; it’s the idea that in order for this great pluralist project to succeed, we have to embrace a virtue that allows us to coexist peacefully with others who may not share our particular ideas about the good life (values, religion, ethnicity, culture, or lifestyle preferences). Classical liberals have always accepted the idea that people are seekers and strivers looking for something. Of course there are a billion paths to happiness, life meaning, and well-being. Accepting that, we have to put the pursuit of happiness first, which requires admitting that we’re all different, one to the next, and we will take different paths.

Toleration starts with conscientiously agreeing not to obstruct another’s path.

Our toleration is also dispositional. A more robust toleration involves a mien of empathy, respect, and open-mindedness. It requires us not just to leave other people alone in their pursuits, but also to consider their perspectives and circumstances. The toleration of social justice is often not so tolerant. It requires conformity, censorship, and consensus.

So, if by “check your privilege” one means try to imagine what life might be like for someone in different circumstances, then great. If by “check your privilege” you’re accusing someone of being part of an oppressor class just because she hasn’t been designated a victim, then you’ve thrown toleration out with the bathwater. This formulation seems to mean your rights and opinions are invalid and you have no real complaints or suffering because you belong to X group. Or, more to the point: You are obligated to pay because people who look like you in some ways did bad things at some point.

The Apparently Perfect vs. the Good

So what does it mean to coexist peacefully with others? And doesn’t toleration have limits? Toleration does not come without its paradoxes, real or apparent. It may be difficult to tolerate the intolerant, for example. But radically free speech and a thick skin are about the best we can do—though such may include fiercely criticizing others for their intolerance in a world without any bright line between disrespect and disagreement. As libertarians, we might draw our own line and not tolerate those who regard themselves as “entitled to force the value [they hold] on other people”—and we can use any peaceful means to thwart them in their attempts to disrupt others’ life plans.

No, toleration is neither a perfect virtue nor the only virtue, but it does the work of peace.

What Liberal Toleration Is Not

Our conception does not require envy or guilt to operate. Nor does it require state censorship or wealth redistribution. It doesn’t require that we adopt cultures and communities we don’t like, but rather acknowledges that those communities and cultures will emerge. Our conception of toleration requires only acknowledgement of differences coupled with that disposition to openness.

Our conception of toleration does not accept the murky idea of victim classes. The problem here is the term “class.” Some member of a class may not be a victim at all. Besides, and more to the point, accepting the idea of victim classes implies that there are perpetrator classes—that if group X has frequently been discriminated against, or abused outright, then all members of group Y are liable for those actions (and, indeed, it’s fair to assume their perspective is tainted).

What’s more, the common acceptance of the idea of a victim class can perpetuate a psychology of victimhood among the members of that class, which holds people back. Some theories of social justice go as far as to require that non-members of the victim class accept that they are victimizers by default. While it is possible to institutionalize mistreatment of a group, justice requires us to dismantle the rot in that institution and to stop putting people into groups at all, not to violate other groups for the sake of abstract redress, or to handicap the excellent, or to reward something irrelevant such as someone’s race.

Proponents of the idea of victim classes view “social justice” as a vague cluster of goods, words, and opportunities to be filtered and apportioned equally among people by an anointed few. What isn’t vague, though, is the power they demand and the privilege they mean to extract. By contrast, proponents of liberal toleration require only that you treat individuals with respect, and first, “do no harm.”

Our conception does not hypostasize or collectivize people—treating them as automatically deserving either special consideration or zealous sensitivity, which is supposed to accrue by virtue of the ascribed group membership. Such collectivism lobotomizes individuals. It robs them of their identities and pushes them to accept identities fashioned by others. It strips them of their individual circumstances. It thins their sense of personal responsibility. And it ignores the content of their character.

Our conception does not demand a perpetual pity party, nor invent reasons to be offended, nor cause one to contrive an invisible latticework of injustice that extends up and out in every direction. Instead, our conception embodies the liberal spirit of “live and let live.” The more people who think that way, the fewer victims—real and imagined—there will be. Toleration needs neither rectitude nor guilt, so demonstrations of piety are also unnecessary. It’s a position that can be held by those who think all people are basically good, or that all people are basically lousy. But that means setting aside the business of sorting out victims (the righteous) and oppressors (the sinful).

Finally, as our conception does not require the ubiquity of injustice, it allows for the flourishing of real community. Real community needs real toleration, free speech, and the inevitable frictions that come along with our colliding perspectives. It is from those frictions that better ideas and more favorable consensuses can emerge—at least if you believe John Stuart Mill and Jonathan Rauch.

Taking Back Toleration

The old adage says: To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To someone who has been educated in the victimhood-industrial complex, everything looks like social injustice.

Toleration might ask more of us sometimes, such as that we not only acknowledge the differences among people but to try to see things from others’ perspectives (empathy). Taking on that view helps us consider how we might reduce all the frictions and figure out the kind of people we want to be. This is not a political doctrine, however. It’s more like remembering the golden rule. It’s about respecting one’s neighbor—be he Sikh or freak or breeder. It’s about acknowledging what evil, intolerant people have done in the past, but also moving on from it.

Toleration even requires us to put up with—politically, at least—the ugliest forms of expression. As Rauch reminds us, “The best society for minorities is not the society that protects minorities from speech but the one that protects speech from minorities (and from majorities, too).” And that’s hard. One has to listen to different voices, taking into account the circumstances of time, place and person, as opposed to treating people as caricatures. Whatever one’s intentions, we must remember that a lot of evil has flowed from forgetting that people are individuals.

Of course, none of this is to argue that racism or sexism or homophobia doesn’t exist, or to deny that people have been mistreated throughout history for reasons that seem arbitrary and cruel to us. It is not even to deny that people are mistreated to this very day—often for those same arbitrary reasons. Rather, my argument is intended to show that a libertarian principle of respect for persons requires toleration, not identity politics.

The great thing about libertarianism is that it is a political superstructure in which most other political philosophies can operate. No other political philosophy features such built-in, full-fledged pluralism. The other basic political philosophies have built-in asymmetries. Progressivism does not tolerate libertarians living as they wish, but libertarianism tolerates progressives living as they wish (with all the caveats about voluntary participation.) And as Hayek said about the conservative: “Like the socialist, he is less concerned with the problem of how the powers of government should be limited than with that of who wields them; and, like the socialist, he regards himself as entitled to force the value he holds on other people.”

So progressives are intolerant of economic freedom. Conservatives are intolerant of social freedom. Only libertarianism maximizes varying conceptions of the good. Nothing under libertarian doctrine precludes embedded communities of any political stripe, and in a free society, we ought to tolerate these clusters as long as they guarantee a right of exit. Indeed, our only requirement would be that if any such community is to persist, it should do so in a matrix of persuasion rather than of coercion.

If we take back toleration, we have a moral high ground that is both appealing to younger generations and works to the benefit of all people. We don’t have to live with the contradictions of progressive social engineers or with conservatives’ half-hearted deference to individual liberty. By practicing real toleration, we can dispel all the various “isms” while leaving people their life plans.

And that’s good enough for libertarianism.

This article was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education.

Max Borders is the editor of The Freeman and director of content for FEE. He is also cofounder of Voice & Exit and the author of Superwealth: Why we should stop worrying about the gap between rich and poor.

Meaningful and Vacuous “Privilege” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Meaningful and Vacuous “Privilege” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
December 3, 2013

Sanford Ikeda’s concise and insightful lists of 14 common fallacies about the free market (available in two installments from The Freeman here and here) motivate careful thought about the commonly used and misused term “privilege” and the conflations in which it can result. In discussing the second fallacy regarding the free market, that it is identical to a system where the government grants special privileges to businesses, Dr. Ikeda writes that “People sometimes define ‘privilege’ as any advantage a person or group may have over others. Certainly such advantages exist today and would exist in a free market—you may be born into a wealthy family or have superior drive and resourcefulness—but these advantages are consistent with the absence of privilege in the libertarian sense, as long as you acquired such advantages without fraud or the initiation of physical violence against the person or property of others.”

Indeed, the increasingly common usage of the term “privilege” to mean any advantage whatsoever eviscerates it of any genuine meaning it once had. This problem in today’s discourse spreads far beyond discussions of connections between businesses and governments.

Certainly, the very fact that one individual is different from another – with a different set of experiences, different physique, different knowledge, and even different standing room at any particular time – provides that individual with opportunities that the other lacks, while rendering him or her limited in ways that the other is not. Unfortunately, this trivial fact is increasingly being misconstrued in some circles to suggest vile inequities arising out of innocuous human differences. People who have not aggressed against, or even demeaned or ridiculed, anyone are increasingly being identified as “privileged” simply for belonging to broadly and crudely defined groups – be it all people of European descent, all males, or even all non-overweight people (witness the pseudo-concept of “thin privilege”) or people who are not disabled. (“Ableism” is apparently an emerging sin in the vocabulary of the increasingly militant and vitriolic collectivistic “social justice” movement – which is about neither true individual-oriented justice nor the preservation of a civilized and tolerant society.)  Such a vacuously expansive view of privilege is a tremendous insult to the true victims of coercive privilege throughout history – from slaves in all eras, to women who in prior eras were denied suffrage and property rights, to the freethinkers and forbears of liberty and reason, whose voices were too often snuffed out by the arbitrary power of absolute monarchs and theocrats in the pre-Enlightenment world.

Thomas Jefferson, an opponent of privilege in its meaningful sense, put it best when he expressed in his 1826 letter to Roger C. Weightman “the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride legitimately, by the grace of god.” Jefferson was a staunch opponent of the coercive privilege that enabled some to gain artificial advantages by restricting others from pursuing life-improving courses of action. Accidents of birth, or special lobbying skills, should not, in a just system, enable a person to acquire prerogatives which could not be earned through the free, peaceful exercise of that person’s abilities. Jefferson saw the future and strength of the American republic in the hoped-for emergence of a “natural aristocracy of talent and virtue” – people who, when allowed the liberty to flourish through honest work and competition, would become role models for others solely through their examples. This natural aristocracy would not need force to maintain its prominence, because the traits of the most knowledgeable, most industrious, and most virtuous people will be emulated by any who earnestly seek to improve their own lives and who have the freedom to acquire knowledge and make their own decisions.

Yet Jefferson’s natural aristocracy would be denounced as an example of horrid “privilege” by the “social justice” types – simply due to the necessarily unequal distribution of outcomes on a free market of open and honest production, competition, and cooperation. After all, not everyone can originate the same ideas at the same time. Not everyone can take advantage of the same opportunity for entrepreneurial profit, whose attainment, as economist Israel Kirzner demonstrated in Competition and Entrepreneurship, arises out of alertness to opportunities that others have missed. Kirzner writes thatBecause the participants in [a] market are less than omniscient, there are likely to exist, at any given time, a multitude of opportunities that have not yet been taken advantage of. Sellers may have sold for prices lower than the prices which were in fact obtainable… Buyers may have bought for prices higher than the lowest prices needed to secure what they are buying…” (43). Would it be an example of unacceptable “privilege” for an alert entrepreneur to remedy such an arbitrage opportunity and thereby bring otherwise-unrealized value to consumers?

Yes, the free exercise of human abilities will produce outcomes where some people will have some advantages over some others (while, of course, leaving fully open the possibility that those very others will have their own distinct advantages, obtained through hard work, knowledge, or sheer luck). But, as long as coercion is not involved in securing and maintaining those advantages, the people endowed with them are not “booted and spurred” to ride the rest of us. As Dr. Ikeda points out, the differences among people are a source of strength harnessed by the free market: “The free market gives you an incentive to profit from associating with and learning from others who might be very different from you, who operate outside your normal social networks.” By incentivizing and facilitating these interactions, the free market encourages greater tolerance, understanding, and visible societal heterogeneity of the sort that constitutes the best safeguard against truly heinous oppressions based on collectivistic stereotypes. Instead of condemning others as being too “privileged” simply on account of innocuous differences, it is far more productive to think about how those differences can help one achieve one’s own values through honest, peaceful, and productive interaction, cooperation, and exchange.