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The Limits of Neutrality in a Politicized World: Why Fence-Sitting on Censorship Is Not an Option
Politics is dirty but may be the only way to preserve the academic freedom that the intolerant are chipping away while the tolerant sitting in their ivory towers hope they'd be persuaded to stop.
As we all know, academic self-censorship and fence-sitting by both students and teachers have been prevalent recently. Therefore, it is especially disappointing that a professor who advocates for freedom of expression and the pursuit of truth is hindering efforts to address this issue for fear of such action being too politicized.
I’m talking about Dr. Agnes Callard, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, who lectured on Socratic politics and freedom of speech at Harvard last Thursday. While emphasizing the need for open conversations that "temporarily suspend the usual practice of mapping every interaction onto a symbolic battlefield" the lovably weird professor made sure to castigate the 2022 New York Times op-ed on campus speech by University of Virginia Emma Camp who was a college senior at the time.
“My problem is the language that Camp uses to describe the things universities ‘must do,’ what they ‘should refuse,’” Callard said. “I feel like someone is shouting, ordering you around.”
What Dr. Callard was referring to, was Emma's call for Universities to "refuse to cancel controversial speakers or cave to unreasonable student demands. They should encourage professors to reward intellectual diversity and nonconformism in classroom discussions. And most urgently, they should discard restrictive speech codes and bias response teams that pathologize ideological conflict."
Given Dr. Callard’s reaction to this statement, she may fear that it will lead to brownshirts goose stepping through the Virginia campus while all students deemed “unreasonable” are strapped to chairs “Clockwork Orange Style” & made to watch Ben Shapiro cooking a Turkey on repeat.
Callard said politicization is the root cause of “polarized politics”. in the U.S., adding that it is not properly recognized as a limitation of free speech.
But what is the alternative to what Emma is calling for that would pass Dr. Callard’s “no politicization” free speech policy? Gently persuade radical professors & their indoctrinated students to embrace a pluralism of thought? The activist professors have no incentive to embrace what is a naked threat to their power & influence (not to mention paycheck) & their students see any deviation from the leftist norm as an existential threat.
While I appreciate Dr. Callard’s support of free expression, I doubt her ideal environment for discourse will come about through sitting on the fence & hoping for the best. Some strides currently being made include the takeover of a small public college in Florida, introduction of DEI-abolishing legislation to affect all public universities in the aforementioned state, & legislators in other red states starting to come around to the same ideas. As Chris Rufo talked about in his recent column, lawmakers have historically defunded ideologically captured disciplines in public universities, so the precedent is set for more of this to occur, if there's enough of a backbone to do it.
This does not mean that these institutions should go the way of such cringe conservative primitivism was recently seen in (where else?) Florida, when the principal of a Tallahassee charter school was forced to resign after parents complained of their kids being exposed to pornography during a lesson on Renaissance art that included Michelangelo’s “David” sculpture.
Both the far right & left in this sense are intellectual chasms built more for unthinking NPCs than real people, while the mountain of true philosophy attracts the inquisitive & open minded in the pursuit of truth. But the pursuit of truth won’t be defended by the activist leftist or the rightist demagogue. We need the Dr. Callards of the world support the few (but growing) liberal voices “ordering around” or pretty soon even their fence sitting support of free expression will be seen as bigoted by the propagandized masses.
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