See, Pamela Paul, “This 1991 Book Was Stunningly Prescient About Affirmative Action, New York Times, May 25, 2023
Category: Freedom of Speech
Tirien Steinbach, “Diversity and Free Speech Can Coexist at Stanford; We have to stop blaming, start listening, and ask ourselves: Is the juice worth the squeeze?” Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2023 (2:00 pm ET);
Tirien Steinbach, the Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Stanford Law School, offers a defense of her controversial intervention in the conflict over Judge Duncan’s speech at Stanford Law School recently.
At the same time, however, her article reveals the fundamental flaw in the approach of university administrators to the relationship between DEI and free speech.
Diversity, equity and inclusion plans must have clear goals that lead to greater inclusion and belonging for all community members. How we strike a balance between free speech and diversity, equity and inclusion is worthy of serious, thoughtful and civil discussion. Free speech and diversity, equity and inclusion are means to an end, and one that I think many people can actually agree on: to live in a country with liberty and justice for all its people.
The fundamental flaw in this reasoning is the assumption that free speech should be “balanced” against diversity, equity, and inclusion, or any other societal goal.
Balancing free speech against any goal of society (Who decides what are and ranks societal goals? Who balances? What standard or test is used to balance?) is a slippery slope that leads very quickly to the curtailment of free speech.
The only balancing test that is necessary or desirable is that administered by judges between the near absolute value of free speech in a free and democratic society, on the one hand, and the likelihood of speech producing immediate physical violence or other physical harm, on the other.
The classic tests are still valid: “Don’t cry ‘fire’ in a theater” or give directions for arson in the middle of a riot.
Our legal system has carefully defined the few limitations on free speech that exist in our constitutional democracy.
Free speech is not only a societal goal, it is a constitutional right.
There is no need for university administrators or anyone else to introduce any new “balancing test” for limiting free speech.
The Spirit of Voltaire
1) Tunku Varadarajan, “DEI at Law Schools Could Bring Down America; After the Stanford episode, Ilya Shapiro sounds a warning: The threat to ‘dismantle existing structures’ is an idle one in English class. But in legal education it targets individual rights and equal treatment under the Constitution,” Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2023 (6:50 pm ET);
Thomas Chatterton Williams, “You Can’t Define Woke; The word is not a viable descriptor for anyone who is critical of the many serious excesses of the left yet remains invested in reaching beyond their own echo chamber, The Atlantic, March 17, 2023 (7:00 a.m. ET).
Thomas Chatterton Williams seems to have been reading my mind.
I’ve been thinking over the last few weeks about how the Democrats have been ceding the ground and issue to the Republicans by not criticizing some of the positions taken by leftist extremists who want to control speech, or cancel professors who express views they disagree with.
Where is the full-throated defense of freedom of speech one might expect to hear from liberal Democrats?
Are they afraid to criticize excesses by their own followers the same way Republicans are afraid to criticize the excesses of Donald Trump?
Is it simply fear of the Internet mob?
What the Democrats are losing is the support they might receive from Republicans or Independents if they made clear that most Democrats don’t agree with these extreme views, which are often lumped together as being “woke”.
Thomas Chatterton Williams points out that the term “woke” is now useless as a tool of argument or persuasion. He calls on us to be more precise in our arguments, which may help us all focus on the real issues.
The Spirit of Voltaire
Sherelle Jacobs, “The West is doomed if it blames all its problems on Evil White Males; ‘Anti-racist’ hyperbole has become a convenient excuse not to properly examine our own history,” The Telegraph, January 30, 2023 (9:00 pm).
Few seem to have the courage to denounce the excesses of “anti-racism”–which tragically and ironically sometimes assume the characteristics of racism itself.
While some in the class of victims of racism may at times obtain important advantages (e.g., academic posts or television news jobs) as a result of anti-racism policies which discriminate on the basis of race, in the long run racism will not be overcome by adopting measues that are racist in themselves.
Members of “the white race” and their ancestors are not the only human beings who can be guilty of racism.
Moreover, it is worth recalling the fact that “race” is not itself a scientific concept.
Sherelle Jacobs of The Telegraph draws attention to ssome of the “anti-racist” excesses that obscure an accurate view of history, and discriminate against others on racist grounds.
She herself, she recounts, was denied an opportunity to speak at a recent conference at her alma mater. She, being of mixed-race background, was prohibited from speaking on account of her “proximity to whiteness”.
We should never deny or downplay the dark side of Western history – nor the strangely double-edged story of Western freedom.
But here’s the thing. The evil “whiteness” stuff is getting out of hand. Everywhere one looks there are excesses. Take the decolonised university courses that seek to purge Dead White Men (the intellectual cousin of the Evil White Male) from the curriculum. Or the obsession with toppling statues of figures such as Cecil Rhodes. That’s before we get onto the full-blown anti-white discrimination. When I attended a colourism workshop at my old university not long ago, mixed race women, including me, were prohibited from speaking on account of our “proximity to whiteness”. Even worse is the trend towards barring white people from black spaces altogether. Two Canadian theatres have sparked an outcry by limiting performances to an “all black-identifying audience”.
As loathsome as racism is and has been in the past, we need to understand that there are many forms of racism, which becomes particularly evident when we look at the wide range of societies in this world and its some eight billion people.
Perhaps we would do well to focus less on the past and more on the present and the future, which we ourselves are responsible for shaping, and to continue our pursuit of a world in which, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., individuals “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.
The Spirit of Voltaire
1) Vimal Patel, “A Lecturer Showed a Painting of the Prophet Muhammad. She Lost Her Job; After an outcry over the art history class by Muslim students, Hamline University officials said the incident was Islamophobic. But many scholars say the work is a masterpiece,” New York Times, January 8, 2023 (Updated 7:38 a.m. ET);
Hamline’s president, Fayneese S. Miller, co-signed an email that said respect for the Muslim students “should have superseded academic freedom.” At a town hall, an invited Muslim speaker compared showing the images to teaching that Hitler was good.
Spirit of Voltaire