Rochester’s College Republicans will host conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro on April 5 to speak on the threats to the freedom of speech currently permeating college campuses. Mr. Shapiro has a lengthy and impressive resume of conservative activism, making him a voice that is not heard often on campus.
He has sparked notable controversy on his speaking tour of universities. Recently, the administration of California State University, Los Angeles went so far as to attempt to ban him from speaking on their campus, much to the chagrin of free expression advocates nationwide. While Ben Shapiro’s style may spark a degree of resistance, his arguments are always built upon facts, and, more importantly, he has shown himself to be open to discussing dissenting opinions. It is for this reason and due to our resounding belief in the protection of the fundamental right of free speech that Ben Shapiro will be joining us in April.
At UR, the discussion regarding free speech has centered on the controversy regarding the use of Yik Yak. This has concerned a series of egregious and condemnable messages posted on the social media site by anonymous users. Both sides of this debate deserve to be considered and taken seriously. From the perspective of free speech, preventing people from writing terrible things does not prevent people from having terrible thoughts, and even terrible people have the right to express themselves.
While this is important, the pervasive disagreements regarding the freedom of speech extends far beyond Yik Yak. The implications of censoring free speech should not be underestimated, which makes it all the more important that this issue is discussed in depth.
On a wide scale, the crux of the free speech issue lies within our sudden refusal to consider dissenting opinions. Political argument, thoughtful discussion and the right to voice opinions are the cornerstones of a free and progressive society. However, there is declining interest today in objectively considering opposing opinions, choosing instead to write them off as purely wrong, ill-intentioned, or misguided.
The prioritization of group agendas over individual liberties is partially to blame. It has become unacceptable to stray in individual opinion from that of one’s socially assigned group, lest the individual be ostracized. Conversely, an outside criticism of a policy is implied to be an insult against an entire group. This is both unfair and unproductive, creating divisions among people where none should exist, and stifling the potential for positive discussion amongst peers who ultimately share the same goals.
The habit of demonizing the other side in an attempt to silence dissenting opinions has grown in national politics and on campus. Attempts to silence the other side often disguise themselves as well-intentioned efforts to provide safety. The notion of “microaggression” has overtaken us, giving credence to the idea that even a statement made without the intention of being hurtful is indicative of ill-intent. Taken a step further, the offenders are therefore supposedly not to be respected or heard. The culture of moral superiority and insistence on prioritizing feelings over facts is leading to an embarrassing stalemate of valuable intellectual dialogue.
When differences in ideology devolve into character assassinations, this is an affront to the values of a free society. Suppressing intellectual diversity is akin to rejecting diversity of all kinds, and we’re better than that.