That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore (and it’s not because of “political correctness”)
Julia Serano

Your essay is an incisive contribution to the larger discussion. And I swear I’m not an ‘anti-PC’ libertarian ideologue. (Which I suppose sounds like a dead giveaway.)

“the status quo is always evolving. The proverbial line in that sand … is constantly shifting over time.”

Yes, but not necessarily for the better. Turning from comedy and sexuality/gender/race-based jokes, there has been rising anti-vaccination, anti-GMO, and anti-animal research sentiment. (Yes, I chose these examples in part because you’re a biologist.) I don’t know of any cases of speakers being disinvited or shouted down because they represented Monsanto or were animal researchers, but surely it’s more likely to happen in today’s climate than 10 or 20 years ago.

If that were to happen, should the campus community yield to the wisdom of the leading edge of status quo evolution or should a climate of free expression be vigorously defended? The leading edge might not be so wise. In the 1930s, the vanguard of the Western hard left was divided between Stalinists and Trotskyists, both of which were dead ends. In the 70s anti-transgender sentiment was cutting-edge within feminism/progressive thought, not a relic of its old guard as it is today. And there are always issues in contention whose fate is uncertain. Proponents cannot predict which side of the disinvitation fence they will land on.

Nor does sentiment always evolve in the same direction simultaneously. At one campus, an anti-Israel speaker might be disinvited. At another, a pro-Israel speaker. And these actually have occurred. One could accept these incidents as simply reflecting the local culture of the campus. But is that all a campus is supposed to be: its current political will put into practice? Granted there are those who are well outside the pale: Nazis for a well-worn example. But most of speakers and materials are not so clear cut. Given that, and the fallibility of the vanguard, maybe more than respect for the climate of the campus is required.