Freedom of speech cautiously?

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:  “My Life as a Cautionary Tale: Probing the Limits of Academic Freedom,”  by Steven Salaita.

So what does freedom mean in an academic economy structured to reward obedience? No thinking person buys the myth of merit. Academe is filled with mediocrities who achieved stardom by flattering the ruling class. Already, then, freedom is tenuous because livelihood is contingent on respectability, itself contingent on pleasing the ruling elite. Cultures of online exchange promise a kind of freedom, but more than anything they illuminate the preponderance of coercion. Nobody who covets white-collar stability will make a comment on social media without considering the possible fallout. Every hiring committee you’ll ever encounter staffs Twitter’s electronic panopticon. 

Academia has its limitations and the most perplexing of these is that it limits discourse while pretending to encourage open-mindedness and rigorous debate.  The article from which the material cited above is taken delves into the restrictions on academic freedom that prevent free and open discussion of all and every topic from all and ever perspective.  There are things that cannot be said in classrooms and things one cannot be known to believe and support.  As the author acknowledges, there are good reasons for such.  However, as happens anytime restrictions on speech, on the expression of thought are imposed, no matter how good the reason, the very principle of free speech, the rights of everyone to honestly express their views, the principle of free speech is threatened because somehow someone, some body, is given the power to distinguish allowable from disallowed and someone, some bodies, freedom of speech is curtailed.

Free speech, the freedom to speak, is no easy right to get right in terms of who is served by it and who is harmed.  The possibility–the probability—of someone being hurt or even damaged by the speech of another or others always exists and in an environment where people are free to express their thoughts freely, inevitably, some will be hurt and some harmed.  The question becomes one of whether it is important enough to protect those who might or will be harmed to place restrictions on free speech.  As the author writes, it is not the illiberal alone who advocate for controls on speech, the justifications different, of course, but the effect on freedom of speech similar if not the same.

Importantly, the author explores some of the complex issues surrounding freedom of speech on university campuses and the willingness of some–sometimes backed by good reasoning–to impose limitations on speech.  The real consequences of doing so are, in my mind, profound, not alone for what is said or not and what is felt but for the effect restrictions, made allowable because, in some situations, they are both reasonable and reasonably humane, have on freedom of thought, on the kinds of intellectual pursuit those who teach and those who are students come to allow themselves in consideration of the real penalties and the possible penalties for thinking astray from what is or is thought to be the acceptable.

Thus, the following passage from the Chronicle of Higher Education article by Steven Salaita titled “My Life as a Cautionary Tale: Probing the Limits of Academic Freedom,” struck me because it reminded me of my years as a professor and the institutional knowledge in which I was versed that always told me to proceed with caution in regards to what you say, what you teach, what you discuss with students and colleagues because engaging in certain kinds of speech, discussing certain ideas and kinds of ideas could get me in trouble.  I did get into trouble and what was troubling was that I was working for an institution that spoke proudly to the fact that encoded in its academic protocols was respect for academic freedom.  Interestingly, as Salaita seems to be pointing out, we, the professors, censored ourselves, in good part, because we wanted to succeed in academia, curtailed our speech and our thinking so that we could remain a part of a profession that allowed us to get paid for thinking.





Indecent. A very sick country.

“Unlike the other shootings that have shaken Texas over the past several years, in which gunmen targeted people who had gathered for a common purpose — at a church, a school, a shopping center — Saturday’s tragedy stretched for miles. From an interstate highway to neighborhood streets to the parking lot of a movie theater, the gunman sowed terror across the Odessa-Midland region.

A former math teacher was shot while sitting at a traffic light with his wife and children. A beloved uncle was hit outside the home he had just moved out of. A high school student bled out after leaving a dealership where her brother had just picked up the keys to his new car.”

An epidemic.  A disease.  A scourge.  And through how many administrations and congresses have things remained so?  There is something terribly wrong with this nation–it is sick–and its political system.

Things will continue to get worse unless the political system that allows for such things is radically changed.

There remains no viable political party that stands for radical political change.

Sensible people have to act to bring about that radical change and it looks like it will have to be done outside the extant political system.

Or we can just keep on going on and allow our fellows to be slaughtered.

Is it good to vote for someone less than good enough?

I do not think I can vote again for a defender of our capitalist system, at least as it is currently manifest.  Voting for a candidate who wants to protect the current system is to vote for a status quo that is the most damaging humanly controllable force in the world.  I used to be able to hold my breath and vote for the “best” one of them.  If I wanted to vote, I had to vote for one of them because there was no “viable” alternative.  I knew that none of these were really viable in the sense that none of them would do much to solve the basic problem responsible for most of what is wrong in and with the human world.  In fact, they were all, to varying degrees, promoters and protectors of the system.

So I do not really care much about viability–electability is another word for it–because for one of these to be elected means not much in solving the problems that are the most terrible, that consistently result in the tragic–people dying, people living miserable lives, people denied basic services such as education and medicine, destruction and degradation of the environment, and the promotion of a nasty ethos that pits this one against the other in a stupid game that ultimately serves a few at the expense of the the many.

I can vote for a candidate who does not want to get rid of or destroy capitalism but only if he or she sincerely wants to change the rules so that no one goes wanting and the quest for capital does no harm to people or planet.  I think there are some candidates who do sincerely believe that such change is necessary but I fear that I will not be given the opportunity to do so as the leaders of the two viable parties are not apt to allow for the nomination of candidates who would offend those hold the wealth they are dependent upon and who, like them, benefit greatly from the system as it is.

A real protest against the capitalist party system could bring about the election of someone terrible, the re-election of the current president, for example.  In the short-term, more of terrible what already is.  But, enough people showing their unwillingness to support a less than decent–as in decent human being whose humanity guides his or her decisions–could open the path to the possibility of having something better that was at least, good enough.