From the Right: Censorship: the privilege of being a social justice activist
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
Just a week ago, a group of well-meaning self-described “social justice activists” took to Facebook to demand the eradication of a Twitter account they found offensive. I concede that the Twitter account @UNH_D is highly vulgar. The operator of this account uses Twitter to humorously describe sexual practices that I will decline to describe here. At last count, the account has accumulated almost 600 followers. These followers are, by no means, exclusively men though. One wonders how many of the account’s female followers have fallen under the spell of “internalized misogyny.”
Our activist friends, a handful of individuals known for their passionate support of speech codes at UNH, were, much to their self-congratulation, initially successful. Submitting exaggerated and false report after report to Twitter, they were able to have the account suspended. Unfortunately, Twitter (which introduced a policy earlier this year reserving the right to comply with the speech codes of authoritarian regimes) seemed not so eager to observe the pontifications of our university’s “social justice community”…the account was back up a few hours later.
So once again, our activist friends set out to have the distasteful Twitter account shut down using any means necessary: misrepresentation to the public, submitting bias reports, alerting the administration, contacting the university police (I wish I were joking), and notifying (and one assumes distracting from more pressing matters) the campus sexual harassment program.
But perhaps I have endeavored to dismiss censorship as a tool of community cohesion too soon. Is there a rational argument to be made for censorship? Yes. The most formidable intellectual defender of censorship would appear to be the French political theorist Jean-Jacque Rousseau, who argued for effective censorship in his 1758 essay Letter to d’Alembert on the Theatre. In this essay, he challenges an Encyclopédie article by polymath Jean le Rond d’Alembert which proposes the establishment of a theater in Rousseau’s native Geneva. In his response, Rousseau pleads with d’Alembert to consider the consequences of establishing a theater: the possible moral corruption of the citizenry. Censorship, Rousseau argued, is entirely appropriate in the maintenance of civil order. So might we conclude that our activist friends are little more than the modern heirs to Rousseau’s thinking?
It would appear not. For starters, they do not go far enough. Even if they are successful in this one battle, who can say when another seemingly racist, sexist, heterosexist, gender normative, classist, Islamophobic, ageist, ableist, weightist or lookist social networking account might appear? Who knows what other prejudices the unenlightened might invent in the meantime? Thus the rational “social justice activist,” seeking to eliminate this sort of speech, would do well to advocate for a social networking ban on the University of New Hampshire campus.
I would go further than this and suggest that the “social justice community” institute a “social justice junta” to perpetually police the student population and enforce a “fair speech code” that releases us from the bondage of our “privilege.” In which case, I should be immediately ordered to stop writing for this newspaper. I have always had an affinity for utilizing the pronouns “he, his, and him” when the gender of the subject is ambiguous. This sort of grammar is not welcome in our community and I suggest that my column be replaced with rotating privilege checklists when this new regime comes to power.
Then again, advocating such a proposal would surely discredit the “social justice community” further. Instead, maybe we can simply enforce our community’s morality and censor speech that we believe is not in line with that morality. But whose morality is our community’s morality if all morality is relative? Certainly the standards of morality which traditional advocates of censorship thought ought to be enforced should give apologists for abortion and homosexuality pause in developing an affinity for restrictions on the First Amendment.
For a more effective strategy which, much to their disappointment, might deprive our activist friends the opportunity to conduct a “social justice inquisition,” I humbly turn them to John Milton’s Areopagitica. While I know it might take time to warm up to Milton (he was a white man unaware of his “privilege”), he might be worth a second look. Quoth Milton: “[T]hough all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play on the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?” Milton held that if one allows for the unfettered exchange of ideas and the utterance of unsanctioned speech, truth will arise from it. Even if one negates the existence of a universal truth, perhaps such a system might allow people to find their own respective truths … did I just write that? I’m feeling nauseous.
In any case, this is effectively the scenario that won the day. While our activist friends were throwing a tantrum on Facebook and complaining about the need for more draconian speech codes, their clever peers took it upon themselves to create Twitter accounts called “UNH V” and “UNH Gay D.” Yes, accounts devoted to humorously describing other sexual practices which I will decline to describe here. Simply put, censorship has no place in our culture or on our campus ... we’re better off without it.