(Editor’s note: The student who contributed this piece has asked for anonymity–for reasons that are, unfortunately, all too obvious. SeeThruEdu.com has confirmed that the student is a current undergraduate.)
The fact that far-leftists are stifling free speech on college campuses has become almost a truism. But things have taken a surprising turn: leftist censorship has turned on itself. Recently a self-described liberal professor confessed he is afraid of his own students, and the classic feminist play “The Vagina Monologues” was banned from campus because it committed the crime of assuming women have vaginas.
These recent leftist self-immolations have left me wondering what’s going on. From a tactical political perspective, it makes sense to shut down debates about abortion if you’re radically pro-choice, as recently happened at Oxford University. But this fervor is more than politics; it’s almost a religion. What’s going on?
I recently took a look under the hood of the radical leftist ideologies that are stifling free speech on campus. Here’s what I found: Speech is now about identity, not ideas. Some leftists now believe that what people have to say is less important than who is saying it.
The root of the problem is relativism, the idea that there is no objective truth, but only narratives “constructed” by individuals largely on the basis of race, class and gender. Because no ideas can be described as “true,” identity becomes the most important basis on which to judge speech.
You see this, for example, in the recent Jenner affair. In a Vanity Fair article, Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner said that women’s brains are different from men’s. As a trans woman, Caitlyn is a member of an oppressed group and so has been widely lauded by liberals. But when a white, heterosexual man—Harvard President Larry Summers—made the same point that men’s brains differ from women’s, he was crucified and fired for it. Why the difference in reactions? One word: identity. Larry Summers is a white, heterosexual man, which makes him either the arch oppressor or, at very best, the heir of piles of privilege. Jenner is a member of an oppressed group, and so is free to espouse ideas that the privileged Summers cannot.
Or take the cancelled Christ Church (at Oxford) abortion debate. Protesters wanted to cancel the debate because the speakers were men. Their lack of uteri disqualified them from talking about abortion. Period.
A few months ago I attended a debate at the Oxford Union on whether the United States is institutionally racist. (The audience overwhelmingly voted yes, but America shouldn’t be offended: the Union subsequently declared itself institutionally racist in a spasm of cringe-inducing political correctness.) One of the debaters arguing that America is not institutionally racist was heckled by someone in the audience, who shouted, “You’re white,” and derisive laughter rippled through the liberal crowd. The message was clear: only people of color have anything worthwhile to say about racism.
What makes this idea so dangerous is that it has a kernel of truth. African-Americans have a perspective on racism that white Americans do not, just as women have a perspective on abortion that men do not. But it is something else entirely to say that Caucasians have nothing to contribute to a conversation about racism, and that men have nothing to contribute to a conversation about abortion. No one, whatever his/her identity, has a monopoly on truth. This idea is central to the Enlightenment and to American democracy, and it is profoundly threatened by a leftist ideology that elevates identity over ideas. The end of free speech on campus may just be the beginning. This ideology is a profound threat to the free exchange of ideas that makes our democracy vibrant.