March 9, 2005

Freedom of Speech has its Limits

The pariah of "higher" education - The University of Colorado's Ward Churchill - is under fire, rightly so, for numerous idiotic utterances he's made since September 11, 2001. Some nine percent of the academic "elite" on CU's campus have fallen all over themselves to defend his "right to free speech."

But this post isn't about the idiocy of that defense of the indefensible. It is about double-standards...the goose and the gander...the pot calling the kettle black.

Seque to a classroom on the CU campus: In the words of the unofficial campus newspaper 'Colorado Daily,' "The story went like this. At the end of a class in the Muenzinger Psychology building, the white kid pointed out to the black kid that he'd talked through the entire lecture. The black kid invited him to go sit up front where he could hear. The white kid then said "maybe I should; I don't need to be sitting next to some loudmouth n----r." And then the fight was on."

So why is this "news" you may ask. Is one of the kids pressing charges? No. An expose on the state of the learning environment on campus? Nope. Can you believe that "some stupid white kid in a CU class this week hurled the n-word at one of his black classmates?!"

There you have it. In a climate of "anything goes" and "absolute freedom of speech" we have the editor of this smarmy little paper decrying an individual who spoke freely because they didn't like what he said. Apparently there's an absolute right to free speech except for the word "nigger." (Which is interesting because, as far as I can tell, the word has not been banned from the English language.) But something tells me that even that would be OK if Ward Churchill said it.

This was all the Daily needed to judge the white kid "stupid," which is a disparaging term itself. Worse yet, they judged him "deserving" of being beat up (provided, that is, that he lost the fight. The objectivity of this source is in serious doubt.) Do they really believe the black kid actually "invited him to go sit up front where he could hear" instead of something like, "get your skinny white ass up in the front where I don't have to look at your sorry shit." Nah, I'm sure he was the perfect gentleman. Just like Ward Churchill.

Philosophy Posted by JohnGalt at March 9, 2005 11:54 PM

Hmm. Not often I side with the editorial staff at the Daily (Your description "smarmy" is spot on!) but I think you choose a poor example of double standards.

I have zero doubt that conservatives, or religious students, or pro-Israelis are routinely denied the free speech that is claimed for Mr. Churchill. And that is a crime.

But a young white kid who would use that particular epithet in 2005 may be stupid and is certainly in severe danger of an ass kickin'

No, it is not banned from the language but it has a taboo no other word has enjoyed in some time. Given its history, I can't say that I miss it. I called a good friend that in high school and it is one of the biggest regrets of my life.

On the other hand, I was the only "peckerwood" in a seven piece band when I was 20 and I think ever third word was n-----. The funniest line in the history of American film is when Rufus, the thirteenth disciple (Chris Rock) in "Dogma" answers the question "You knew Jesus?" with "N------ owes me twelve dollars!" I just wish I could quote it...

Posted by: jk at March 10, 2005 10:41 AM

Any white kid stupid enough to call a black kid a "nigger" in a college classroom is "stupid". Calling someone a name like that anywhere is else isn't red hot smart either. I'd agree with JK that this isn't the best example of a free speech double standard.
A better example might be found in the plight of the CU prof who quoted Thomas Sowell and mentioned God in one of his lectures. If the accounts of this are true and he has been effectively fired for what he said, then this better illustrates the pathology in academia. Where are the protester supporting his right to free speech. Where is the supporting letter signed by two hundred of his fellow profs? This man has been called a racist, in spite of his two black, adopted children; perhaps we should defend him before we defend some cracker kid with a big mouth.
CU is a cesspool and Ward Churchill is most likely a very typical, garden variety nutjob in a hot house of nutjobs. Go Gonzaga!

Posted by: Sugarchuck at March 10, 2005 11:54 AM

So your combined points are.. That it's a "poor example of double standards" not because it isn't a double standard but because it's one we should all want to live with? And that calling someone a nigger in a college classroom, that absolution zone for free speech, the incubator for unpopular ideas where "even the most reprehensible things" must be allowed fair hearing, is marginally WORSE than doing so anywhere else?

The word "nigger" is not part of my vocabulary, nor that of most enlightened individuals, but if on occasion it ever happens to pass someone's lips it should not automatically - and with social sanction - inure the speaker to a physical assault. Should it? As a jurist, would you truly acquit a black man of assault (or worse) under a defense of "But, but, but...he called me a nigger?"

I expected this posting to be controversial but as I thought it through I concluded that my premise is rational and defensible. The revulsive response it precipitated shows just how deep the political correctness has penetrated into the subconscious beliefs of even those who decry political correctness.

As for the wrongfully fired CU prof, you are right. Look for a post on him soon. (My sister in law knows him, and feels betrayed by the university over his firing.) But his is a case I expect to see on Hannity and Colmes before long. They won't touch the radioactive "n" word, though. That is left up to wingnuts like myself. By the way, did you know that "nigger" is derived from a French word? Makes sense to me.

Posted by: johngalt at March 10, 2005 2:59 PM

If I'm wrong, I'm sure it will be pointed out, but it's my understanding that the Supreme Court recognizes that fighting words don't constitute protected speech and I can't imagine any word more inclined to provoke a fight than "nigger", when directed by a white man, in anger, towards a black man. And yes, politically correct or not, I do hold the classroom in higher regard than the barroom when it comes to the free exchange of ideas, but that isn't what happened here; this was an exchange of epithets. This wasn't Thomas Sowell vs. Cornell West...this was David Duke stuff and it doesn't belong in a classroom.
Perhaps I should have said, in my original post, that this wasn't a poor comparison becasue the two situations are not comparable. Ward Churchill, as reprehensible as I find him, was expressing the same academic train of thought that probably got him his job in the first place and it is probably mirrored all over that campus (thus the strong show of support). Granted, some of what Churchill has said, falls into the same category of fighting words I refered to earlier, and perhaps he will be fired for that, but by and large he is a typical acedemic, living off of the tax dollars of those he pisses on everyday.
This kid, on the other hand, was not expressing any academic viewpoint, or initiating a debate. He was starting a fist fight and the first amendment does not protect him. This isn't an example fo a double standard, this is oranges and rotten apples.

Posted by: Sugarchuck at March 10, 2005 4:01 PM

As staff pragmatist, I must say that one has to pick one's battles. I'd love to dismantle the Federal Department of Education on philosophical grounds but I saw how well that worked for President Dole in 96.

Posted by: jk at March 10, 2005 5:49 PM

Say what you will, but say something offensive and don't be surprised if people take offense. The real difference in these cases is one of protection. The professor has it from tenure, the white student does not Dr. Churchill seems to me a mediocre academic who found that few really listened to his ideas so he did the modern combative political thing, ratcheted up the tone of his views until he was heard. Many here complain about the MSM, but what about the GMF, the Great Media Filter? This filters out rational speech as not newsworthy and brings us instead the most offensive, all the better to offend us into listening.

Posted by: Silence Dogood at March 11, 2005 1:16 AM

So free speech is only protected when it's not in anger? That's not in the constitution. The fact remains that sticks and stones may break one's bones but resorting to violence against another because of ANY words that pass his lips is indefensible.

Force against another is only justified in self-defense... defense from FORCE (or a reasonable anticipation of it), not "epithets."

Leave it to a collectivist rag like the Colorado Daily to claim otherwise: "Believe what we believe or we'll sanction beatings of you. You'll soon be a GOOD comrade citizen."

Posted by: johngalt at March 11, 2005 10:33 AM | What do you think? [7]