Free Speech on College Campuses

Linas Vepstas
May 17, 2018 · 3 min read

Free speech on college campuses. This is debated in some circles. Some of the debaters seem not to understand what is happening. Here’s a meta-explanation.

College campuses — the 16–22 year-old-set, tend to give voice to what was silently burbling about in homes and social settings five years earlier, when they were 10–17, first becoming aware of socio-political issues in their community. They absorbed, as pre-teens, and now they speak, as they morph into young adults … importantly, these are their first coherent self-expressions, as they first learn how to harness confused thoughts into rational structures. This is the time of life where you learn how to think in a principled manner, and how to give these thoughts a voice, a coherent and compelling statement.

So, what are they saying? They are saying that, five years earlier, as pre-teens, they witnessed that the very social fabric around them was being shredded. Economic well-being (viz various unemployed adults around them) medical/health well-being (murmurs of acquaintances being denied health-insurance), collapse of the justice system (bottomless, endless litany of outrages and injustices, esp on social media), environmental collapse (global-warming denial). This is was the soup that the pre-teens were in. They were not actively engaged with it. They mostly did not understand what it meant. They mostly weren’t even aware of any of this, as a foreground thought-process. Rather, it was overheard murmurs in a waking dream-life. But it does sink in, and deeply, into the brain: civilization is teetering on the verge of collapse.

Its also quite clear who it is that can be blamed for this civilizational collapse: in the US, its the GOP, the right-wing parts of the Democratic party, and decades of insane right-wing policy. In Europe, I don’t know what name to hang on the destroyers, the toadies. I imagine the European college students have a pretty good idea of who they are.

So: when your orientation in life is under attack, you become hostile to your attackers. I hope that is not a surprise. There is a fairly well-defined enemy, who is hard at work trying to destroy Western civilization; pretending that this enemy should have “free speech rights” is insane. Its not a rational, coherent stance when one is under attack. It’s one thing to be tolerant of speech while sitting in a pub, drinking, it’s quite a different thing to be tolerant of speech when the other side is burning down the pub.

It’s become fairly clear that the right-wing forces have become dupes for the oligarch classes, and are willing participants in the destruction of society. When you attempt to destroy society, you don’t get free-speech rights. The right-wingers need to be silenced, and much more; they are not beneficial agents; they are marauding destroyers. This is the civilizational crisis that we have attained.

If we don’t fix this problem, and soon, it could end in large-scale bloodshed. College campuses, as always, are the canary in the coal-mine for greater cultural shifts. You must not blame the canary for dying of poisonous fumes; you must not get confused about what the death of that canary actually means. The problem is not on college campuses; it is far, far removed from there.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store