Two More Years’ Further from the Truth

“We should take exception, however, to the notion that students’ recent demands show they are cosseted, lacking resilience, or somehow seeking to infantilize themselves. On the contrary, these students are taking on deeply entrenched problems, such as institutional racism, and showing that they are determined to do something about it.”

In his 2016 article for The Advocate, National Education Association attorney Jason Walta vainly attempts to defend what has since become a caricature of student activism on American college campuses, replete now as then with the same disruptive and petty tactics of a youth different only in age but not in naivete, impervious to both fact and consensus.

And apparently to jurisprudence, for Walta’s defense below that tactics such as shouting down speakers, disrupting official school business, and threatening to riot are within students’ right to freely express bring into sharp relief a degree of deceit that borders on malpractice:

“Universities are— and should remain—bastions of free inquiry for students and faculty alike. That means students are free to protest and to issue whatever demands they think will advance their cause. And, it means that teachers and administrators should tolerate and even invite forceful protest and debate.”

Students actually possess no right to “forceful[ly] protest,” despite what Walta—a credentialed attorney—claims, let alone an entitlement to commit violence that easily qualifies as “forceful protest.” In fact, interrupting and interfering with academic affairs, including school-sanctioned events, are not protected by any legal document, let alone the U.S. Constitution. Rightfully so, such unprotected tactics have increasingly received greater public scorn.

It is also unnecessary to insist universities and colleges remain epicenters of free inquiry of ideas. It is disingenuous, however, to proclaim such and then fail miserably at reconciling students’ moblike behavior and childish aggression when confronted with disagreeable ideas—words—that are themselves legitimately protected. It is more egregious to then tacitly support restricting language on the basis that words could cause a student to experience irreparable trauma for which the college could be held liable. (It could not be.)

And it certainly fares poorly that so many faculty support these illegitimate protests, including some whom have actively engaged in mob-rule actions worthy of a swift termination. It appears self-victimization is an honorable way to quench unrequited anger, misdirected that resulting demands reveal a frightening profile of persons who are anything other than tolerant or intuitive.

Such incoherence and subsequent extremism perfectly capture the infantilization Walta so earnestly disavows. This particularly large demographic of misplaced activism neither appropriately or effectively confronts systemic issues. The tactics used are as shameful as those carried out by the several Black Lives Matter activists whose recklessness effectively crippled a potentially revolutionary movement, had it not been sullied by the civically ignorant and emotionally unstable.

Likewise, students possessed “to do something” just as counterintuitive and reactionary will only risk ending in disgrace yet another profound undertaking, in whose diminished wake will leave nothing this time but shambles of a makeshift philosophy and its unintelligible drivel, spurred by the overzealous and attention-seeking behavior of youth desperate for acceptance and relevancy.

But most assuredly, the kicking and whining will continue unabated and unmoored from the more consequential reality that lay beyond the hysteria and nonsense of today’s modern college campus.

A Quick Word on Gun Control

In my past life as an educator instructing college-level argumentation, students would frequently solicit my views on a gamut of current events, including this one, which has slipped again into media scrutiny since the recent tragedy at Thousand Oaks, California. Friends and family—including one victim’s mother—are pleading for and organizing with the commitment to enact the most comprehensive and historic gun-control legislation beginning this next year.

My response since time memoriam has been, “I will have a serious conversation on gun-control in America once there has been a serious discussion on mental health in America.”

But little to nothing has been covered since Thousand Oaks on mental health reform—on the inarguable need for greater attention and expansion of resources necessary to remedy what invariably has led to most American mass shootings:  mental disorders and diseases, whose funding for effective and sustained treatment continues a decline as precipitous as any corresponding acts of mass violence have become frequent.

Treating a gun as an end is believing that gun-control legislation will effectively reduce or prevent the occurrence of mass violence. Guns are not an end to a means; legislating them either out of existence or into a black market and believing in such an outcome is as absurd as it is dangerous. And believing that a resounding attitude will always lead to intentioned outcomes is dangerous as it is lethal. Guns are a means, a tool—one of innumerable others that humans can calculating use to pleasure the itch to kill. Guns are not the problem; the act of killing is the problem. Trusting otherwise is shooting the messenger with the presumption that destroying him somehow invalidates the message and its consequences.

And the irrationality of banning guns outright must logically extend to other equally absurd reactions, including a complete ban on automobiles. And any “best-case scenario” the opposition might tout does not apply to gun-control legislation as it would in emergency situations as they would have one believe. Genuine emergencies grant few options, are immutable, and conclude as predictably as any present empirical evidence determines. Democratic legislation, on the other hand, is not bound by such fundamentals. Moreover, no precedent exists on which to base any previous gun-control measures as provenly effective. Preventative legislation is radically different than, say, seatbelt laws—a false analogy I have had to routinely expose to the gun-control activists that wield it.

I understand the emotional responses despite my disagreement with demands born from them. I cannot imagine the pain of losing someone to such a despicable act, but one that undoubtedly exposes the mental dysfunction undergirding it. And I acknowledge how tone-deaf and undermining some responses have been to what undoubtedly is a critical public health issue that personally touches a nerve across many professions and among numerous roles, including those as obvious as health care.

But conflating what sounds attractive with what proves effective only satisfies a sense of righteousness rather than achieves what is right. And the attractiveness of instituting a ban or a limitation is definitely more attractive:  it is easier, quicker, and cleaner. It is more satisfying, even. But such prohibitions are reductive and spurn the greater, typically more complex causes whose sensible solutions would not only preclude such oversimplifications from occurring but also perhaps prevent the tragedies that fuel such reduction in the first place.

But onward as we continue to collectively deny or disregard the indisputably more pressing issue of mental health, one graver than all its violent manifestations. Ahead as we continue to reduce treatments that simply deny access rather than induce progress. And forward as we continue to feed a false narrative whose overtones are more political than humanitarian.

Improving mental health resources and coverage will of course not guarantee a cease-fire, but directly addressing the source and not the symptoms of mental disorders and diseases will always prove more prudent than enacting unnecessary gun-control legislation that consumes inordinate amounts of resources and further divorces logic from public policy.

 

Disfigured Speech

Earlier this week, Twitter unleashed its new user policy agreement, targeting users who post “content that dehumanizes others based on their membership in an identifiable group, even when the material does not include a direct target.” Helping codify its corporate version of protected speech, Twitter is directly soliciting its users’ feedback on its posted draft, amounting to a rather shrewd public relations move that presumably caused the uptick in the company’s stock as well.

CEO Del Harvey supports this shortsighted approach despite her bungling the alleged Alex Jones crisis, because the collective infuriation of Twits whose fill-in-the-blank sensitivities tilt easily from trigger-words matters far more. (And I do not recognize this contrivance called “hate speech”; it is simply speech someone feels especially offended by, meaning it is just hated speech. This arbitrary designation has only produced failed curtailments in all levels of court, resulting in more shame than dignity.)

If an idea’s substance ought to reign over its semantics, I wonder how an unpopular political belief phrased diplomatically would fare. And I am curious as to how long it would escape human or algorithmic scrutiny. But Twitter is a business, not a government enterprise subject to the scrutiny established by our judicial system. And it ought to remain this way, unfettered from federal jurisdiction, subject only to the private operators’—and stakeholders’—discretion.

But I will rightfully criticize the most embarrassing length a service has ever gone to satiate its customers’ demands:  severely impairing the very speech that functions to affirm its oppositions and differences. Put more simply, banishing unfavorable ideas—disgusting, insidious, perverted ideas—discounts the weight and significance of whatever selective ideas remain. More overreach will result in many contexts being diluted to a singular and severely reductive ideal. Means for comparison will go extinct. Baselines will blur away. Thresholds will disappear. And so will a people’s integrity when they complicity legislate language to an Orwellian degree, by which every communique—every tweet—will be imbued with an oppression most offensive.

And I will remain offended, but also intrigued by the inevitable overreach resulting from the haste of other platforms freely shucking protected speech in favor of shoddy populist policy-making, and with the careless oversight by a public largely ignorant of civics and Constitutional protections, to boot. I imagine these platforms will engage in a competitive one-upping of both policy content and its delivery, the winner’s purse going to whomever first successfully scorches every nuance of valid political discourse, notably those running aground to whatever sanitized musings and recycled misinformation are funneling down Twitter’s rabbit hole to oblivion.

And emotional sensitives be damned. If anything ought to feel offended by Twitter’s approach, it is one’s intellect. Mine is appalled. But pandering to the whims of one’s clientele is indeed a brutal edge to any service-based industry, especially a social media platform. Yet establishing such a precedent will only further embalm the linguistic monstrosity that is more akin to protective speech, piecemealed in roughshod Frankenstein fashion.

The cure for undesirable speech is more speech, not less. Exposing to light others’ philosophical defects ironically permits us to become more compassionate than tyrannical. And to clarify, shouting down invited speakers to a public college campus to speak does not qualify. It legally does not. Google it. But please make sure to use a credible civics or Constitution website.