Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No More Free Speech at Berkeley

I've been following the current flap about the Increase Diversity Bake Sale, put on today at U.C. Berkeley by the campus Republican students' group.

U.C. Berkeley students, I'm ashamed of you.  And I don't mean the Republicans, who are exercising their constitutional right to be publicly offensive in order to make a point.  To paraphrase Voltaire slightly, I don't agree with their point, but I will defend to the death their right to make it.  In fact, if their purpose in this was to stir up debate, I'd say they've succeeded brilliantly.

Michael Krasny's Forum gave the brouhaha half an hour this morning, during which the earnest Vishali Loomba, president of the ASUC (for you non-Berkeley folks, that's the student union), complained that the bake sale was "rude," it "dissed people" and made them uncomfortable.  Well, yes.  Welcome to U.S. political discourse, Ms. Loomba - that's what free speech is supposed to do.  For the record, after listening to Ms. Loomba speak, she was either born here or has lived here most of her life; for those of you who don't understand satire, that remark was intended to be satirical.

For a somewhat earlier example of satirical free speech which made some people very uncomfortable indeed, I recommend Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, published in 1729.  (For the record, I wrote my honors thesis for my B.A. on Jonathan Swift.)

I attended U.C. Berkeley during the original Free Speech Movement.  I remember people standing on top of police cars with microphones, and sitting in at Sproul Hall.  And the students all thought that was fine because they agreed with the protestors.  Your lesson for today, U.C. students:  free speech is meaningless if it is only available to the people you agree with.  I remember some time ago when an Israeli official was booed off the stage at U.C. Berkeley by Palestinian supporters.  I was more appalled then than I am now; but I hereby state that this is it:  as far as I'm concerned, U.C. Berkeley has forfeited the right to call itself "the home of free speech."   

And I have another bone to pick.  With all the emoting about the "discount pricing" for buyers of color, none of the complainers, not even Ms. Loomba (at least until I became so annoyed I turned Forum off), has even mentioned the 25 cent discount for all women!  Apparently it's OK to insult women as long as you don't insult them for their skin color.  As a feminist, now I'm really appalled!


  1. I agree entirely. My first thought yesterday at hearing the news of this bake sale was "I wonder how the liberals at THAT campus will respond..."

    The only issue I have with it is the intentional shock value of it, but then that's one of the things your college years are supposed to be about: strong feelings expressed creatively to stir discussion.

    What did they do wrong? Doesn't this seem like a form of censorship?

  2. I don't think it's actually censorship; there's just a lot of "you mustn't do that, it's rude." However, I did hear the guy from the Republican group say on Forum that they had gotten threats - but they were mild things like, we're going to come and throw cupcakes at you. No death threats mentioned.

    On one level, I suppose it's a good thing that students now worry about being rude and offending people; for most of the sixties they all thought that because they were right, they were entitled to say things any way they wanted. I would like to see them strike a balance between being rude for the sake of rudeness, and not saying things that need to be said because it would be rude. Sigh.

  3. Political correctness belongs with multi-cultural diversity and textual relativism on the ash-heap of history. These are just the latest tools in the con-games of special privilege and special pleading.

    I heard one report that someone threatened to set the bake sale table on fire with a blow-torch. This kind of thing sounds a good deal like the political climate of a Middle Eastern Islamic nation, where hatred and feuds seem like very coinage of intercourse.

    Rudeness is rampant in our society. It's everywhere. On the street, on the road, in offices, over the air, on the screen. It's all about causes. People used to get drunk and fight in the bleachers at major league ballgames. Now they curse each other in the street over larger issues. If the Mexicans take up standing in my front yard to hawk a day-job, you'll see me throwing rocks too. But I don't go out of my way to look for trouble. I'm so old-fashioned.

    Yesterday at lunch I sat next to a foursome of Berkeley matrons discussing how to set up a tolerance committee which would require parents to attend sensitivity training at their local grade school. I felt like throwing my lunch at them. Did we need this BS when we were going to school? I thought: Once you give in to stuff like this, you'll never get the world you gave away back again. It's just a wedge to force in more illegals, but you wouldn't be able to say that--you'd be jailed!