Friday, November 13, 2015

Quick, My Feelings Have Been Hurt! Call the Thought Police!

They’re at it again. This time, the University of Missouri’s campus cops emailed students urging them to report any “hurtful speech” they encounter on campus. They asked students to describe the offender and encouraged them to photograph the speaker, if possible.

For now, I’ll bypass the obvious question of what hurtful speech is. “Your hair is a mess.” “Are you gaining weight?” “I think we should stop seeing each other.” “You’re a liar.” You get the point. “Hurtful” is by definition a subjective standard, depending in part on the sensitivity of the listener and also in part on extrinsic circumstances. A comment one listener may find deeply hurtful another may shrug off. That’s why courts will generally strike down any statute prohibiting vague behavior.

More importantly, courts will also invalidate unconstitutional laws, such as those violating that pesky First Amendment that says the government – and its agents like police departments of federally funded schools – can’t tell citizens what they can and cannot say. It’s called free speech for a reason. Even hate speech – which is much more clearly definable and recognizable than “hurtful” speech because its content is reprehensible and offensive to society as a whole and not merely to a specific individual – is nonetheless protected speech under the U.S. Constitution. That’s right, hate speech is perfectly legal in America.

The campus police responded to concerns voiced about the First Amendment implications of the email they had sent by saying, “We are simply asking them to report what they feel is hurtful and/or hateful speech.” Notice the other subjective word in their response: feel. It’s all about feelings. If someone hurts your feelings, call the police.

Fortunately for our politically correct society, we have an instruction manual to advise us on this situation. It used to be required reading in colleges like the University of Missouri before it was changed from a cautionary tale into an instruction manual for modern society. George Orwell created the concept of thought police in his novel 1984, and apparently the UM campus cops believe they should add that to their job description.

The really astonishing thing is that this is all occurring at an institute of higher education. Journalism professors attempting to prevent reporters from covering a news story; faculty members advocating students physically intimidate others, calling out “help me get this reporter out of here … I need some muscle over here”; and now campus police announcing they have turned into thought police, urging students to report any hurtful speech they encounter on campus. In all of this, is there any actual teaching going on at the University of Missouri? I suggest they start by teaching the First Amendment… Although they would first have to learn it themselves.

I’m not exaggerating, and only being mildly facetious. The comments by Brenda Smith-Lezama, vice president of the Missouri Students Association, made on MSNBC two days ago only serve to reinforce my point that they do not understand the concept of the free speech and free press protections of the First Amendment. “I personally am tired of hearing that First Amendment rights protect students when they are creating a hostile and unsafe learning environment for myself and for other students here,” she said. You see, it’s all about feelings. If speech makes you feel uncomfortable, then it should be banned, under the political correctness doctrine of the University Missouri.

The following day MSNBC interviewed Brittney Cooper, assistant professor of women’s and studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University. Her Website describes her as “a Black feminist theorist who specializes in the study of Black women’s intellectual history, Hip Hop generation feminism, and race and gender representation in popular culture.” She pooh-poohed concerns about that pesky First Amendment. “We’re having ridiculous conversations about freedom of speech,” Cooper said. “These students are actually asking us to think about what it means to be physically and emotionally unsafe on these campuses. This is not an issue of black students who are advocating for safe spaces trying to limit other folks’ constitutional rights, and it’s extremely intellectually dishonest to assume or act as though that is the conversation we’re trying to have.”

The only one being intellectually dishonest here is Brittney Cooper. Anyone watching the video of the students harassing the reporter will hear them talking about the so-called safe place they had staked out in the public quad. They will see the students form a human chain and push the reporter away. They will see UM media professor Melissa Click order the student reporter to leave the public quad, grab his camera, and hear her shout “Hey, who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here!”

Cooper continues her intellectual dishonesty by asserting “There is something as fundamental as the right to free speech and that is the right to move through the world unharassed.” No, there is no such fundamental right. People are harassed every moment of every day, from the subway ride to work to the annoying telemarketer phone call when they return home. They are harassed by their neighbors, their coworkers, and complete strangers. They’re harassed by panhandlers on the street and Jehovah Witnesses knocking on their door. It’s a fact of life; deal with it.

Cooper then uses the racist phrase “white privilege” not once but twice in the brief interview. “There’s a white privilege in the ability to make this conversation about the threat to freedom of speech,” she told host Chris Hayes, playing the race card while making an offensive racist remark herself and simultaneously creating a straw man to divert attention from the real issue while denying its validity. A remarkable feat to accomplish in a single sentence. But she followed up with “I think there should be limits on trigger warnings, largely because those are often attempts by privileged white students to place their emotional harm over uncomfortable topics at the center of the conversation.”

To his discredit, the usual intellectually honest Chris Hayes nodded without comment, perhaps fearing the backlash from liberal viewers were he to call her out on her racist diatribe. It would seem the political correctness we’ve witnessed at the University of Missouri is a virus that has spread through the airwaves. As for myself, I was offended by Cooper’s hurtful speech, which intruded upon my safe space through my television set, and I plan to report her to the University of Missouri thought police.

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