Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A welcome-back-to-school post on free speech in modern politics

Classes start up again here today, although I have until tomorrow to make sure my syllabi are in order.  I'm sure I won't catch all the typos.  I never do.

As a welcome-back post, let's talk a bit about free speech.  No, it's not really under threat.  Calm the fuck down.  But, it is worth discussing given current events.  I'm just going to make a few observations, some of which are going to be kind of unmutual.  Yes, I am an often-Trump-bashing professor.  That doesn't mean this blog is a safe space for knee-jerk, liberal nonsense.  I've got two incidents in mind.  The canceling of a Milo YiaIdon'tgiveafuckabouthislastname's speech at UC Davis, and a second incident about the removal of a painting about police violence in Ferguson at the Capitol Building.

Let's start with Milo YiahecangofuckhimselfcuzIain'tspellinthat.  In 1978, the American Civil Liberties Union, once considered the leftiest of the left, defended the right of a neonazi group to march in Skokie, Illinois on First Amendment grounds.

What does this have to do with counter-protests?  If the goal of the counter-protest is to shut down a speech, then the protesters are not committed to the concept of free speech.  No, they aren't governmental entities, which means they aren't violating Milo's rights, but that isn't the point.  The point is whether or not they accept the principle of free speech.  If the goal is to shout him down, then no.

Now, what the fuck was Davis doing inviting a fuckwit like Milo YiaI'moutofshittowritehere?  I don't know.  Institutions of higher learning should bring educators to campus.  Milo is an object to study, not an educator.  Institutions should bring scholars who study demagogic blowhards to campus to give talks, not the demagogic blowhards themselves.  Except, perhaps, for MRIs.  That could be fascinating.  Don't you want to see that imaging?

Regardless, the difference between 1978 and 2017 is noteworthy.

Next, Ferguson.  Now, this one's gonna get your hackles up if you don't pay attention to the news closely.  True or false:  Michael Brown was shot while trying to surrender to Darren Wilson?

Here is a link to the Department of Justice report investigating the shooting.  If you are a standard-issue lefty, here is what you know:  the DoJ found lots of racist incidents at the Ferguson Police Department.  Yup.  They did.  Here's what you never heard.  The DoJ investigated the shooting, and found that the forensic evidence did not support the story that Brown was trying to surrender, and that the "eye witnesses" who claimed to see that happen were, shall we say, not reliable.  This was, by the way, Obama's DoJ.

The problem for the left was that they had dug in so thoroughly on the "hands up-don't shoot" story before the investigation had even taken place that they couldn't back away from it, so that part of the DoJ report never even permeated most of the liberal culture.

Now, is it any wonder that Republicans in Congress got pissed off about that painting?  Of course, it doesn't have the names "Brown" or "Wilson" on it, and I'm not an art critic.  Music critic, yes, but I don't get paintings.  Still, this is an important reminder about speech.  Know what the fuck you are talking about.

This gets really hard about issues like Ferguson and race generally because it is so easy to jump to conclusions.  There have been a lot of instances of police using unjustified force.  Kids are dead.  I teach at Case Western Reserve University.  In Cleveland.  Michael Brown, though?  That's not what Obama's Department of Justice said.

Free speech.  Yup.  It's probably a good idea to know what you are talking about, though.  Welcome back to school with this unmutual blog post!

PS: What's the difference between an homage and a blatant rip-off?  Maybe we should check with Monica Crowley.  Or Melania Trump.

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