What to do when a "fascist" comes to campus

March 21, 2018

Hello frens. I decided to start a blog! Or, restart a blog. 

I sometimes have ideas that I want to share or issues I want to comment on,

but videos take quite a long time so it's not always feasible.

I also prefer to focus my videos on sexuality issues in general.

 

so here we are. thanks for joining the discussion!

Welp, I am about to dive in too deep to an issue that has been disturbing me for quite some time: the free speech debacle on college campuses. I'll start out with some context for the wise normies who don't surround themselves with this shit on the daily. Then, I want to offer some analysis and advice to fellow social justice activists -- and really, anyone who values open dialogue.

 

Context is Kween, so here's a bit of it.

On February 1st of 2017, gay conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley. At the time Yiannopoulos was a Breitbart editor, before taking a tumble later in the year when he appeared to condone pedophilia on YouTube. Yiannopoulos originally rose to infamy with his caustic take-downs of social justice issues and presentations like "Feminism is Cancer". Shortly before his visit to Berkeley, Yiannopoulos had drawn criticism for outing a transgender woman at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. During the talk, he projected her picture across the big screen, declaring that "the way that you know he’s failing is I’d almost still bang him."

 

The day before his Berkeley visit, Breitbart reported that Yiannopoulos had planned to criticize US universities for becoming "sanctuary campuses that shelter illegal immigrants from being deported”. Unconfirmed rumors swirled that Yiannopoulos would out undocumented students on campus, similar to how he had outed the transgender student at UW. On the day of the event, hundreds of students showed up to protest, alongside about 150 activists from around the Bay Area known as "Black Bloc". Black Bloc, clad in all black and wearing masks, proceeded to create madness and mayhem. The barriers set up by campus police were forcibly removed, fires were started, and Molotov cocktails were thrown. A viral video showed a woman wearing a Trump hat being pepper sprayed. The appalling scene ultimately resulted in $100,000 in property damage and the talk being cancelled. After the event, UC Berkeley students roundly condemned what had happened. 

 

The spectacle at Berkeley drew millions of eyeballs across the country. Even Trump responded. Without doing much at all, Yiannopolous had managed to enshrine Berkeley as Ground Zero for the culture war against "social justice warriors" that had been boiling over for at least a couple years online. In the following months, every conservative talking head set their sites on Berkeley. Next in line was Ben Shapiro, who delivered his talk to the tune of 9 arrests and approximately $600,000 in security. Lauren Southern, Baked Alaska, and other right wing figures made their way to the notoriously liberal town, and numerous rallies and events were held over the coming months. It was a strategic move. Social media coverage was guaranteed and the irony was too perfect. After all, Berkeley was where the Free Speech Movement had started back in 1964. It is a legacy that Cal Bears take seriously. While media coverage of these events cast UC Berkeley --and the city's crunchy granola liberals, by extension-- as hostile to free speech, the school and the city have spent millions of dollars protecting conservative voices and their right to speak on campus.

 

The cycle has become somewhat predictable now, over a year later. An "anti social justice" commentator will be invited to speak by conservative student group. And while the vast majority of events go off without a hitch, occasionally they spiral into a widely Tweeted, Snapped, and vlogged showdown between "Free speech warriors" and censorious leftist radicals. In the past month, anarchists stormed the stage during a debate between Carl Benjamin ("Sargon of Akkad") and Yaron Brook at Kings College London, resulting in a fire alarm being pulled and a student being punched on camera. Across the pond at Lewis and Clark Law School in Oregon, Christina Hoff Sommer's talk entitled "Victims Victims Everywhere" got off to a bad start before it even began. Multiple student groups demanded that her talk be cancelled, asserting that she is a "known fascist". When it proceeded anyway, protestors (lead by a woman sporting a now infamous Stay Woke jacket) interrupted the talk, chanting:

 

 "We choose to protest male supremacy and not give it a platform. Christina Sommers has repeatedly delegitimized the suffering of women worldwide. But we believe our siblings and our comrades: women are not liars with victim mentalities. Rape culture is not a myth. Micro-aggressions are real. The gender wage gap is real. Trans people are real. Trans lives matter! Black lives matter!"
 

If you're familiar with my work, you'll know that these are all sentiments that I generally get behind. Indeed, I have visited dozens of universities to discuss rape culture and victim blaming and transgender rights with students.  And yet, I find myself at odds with these activists. Sommers only managed to get halfway through before being told by the Dean to wrap it up. Immediately afterward, videos of the event whipped at lightning speed across the web. The outburst was covered in every major media outlet.

 

The battle for hearts and minds

Let's reflect. Whose victory was this? There is certainly a clear winner here -- and it is not the protestors. In refusing to let Sommers get a word in, they simultaneously affirmed the popular caricature of "SJW" boogeymen while also making her task of defending her ideas a breeze. The real victors that night were those who wish to cast student activists as hostile to free speech (hmmm, they might have a point), those who wish to delegitimize the importance of universities, and those who characterize higher education as "elitist" or "liberal brainwashing". These arguments are routinely made on Twitter in favor of defunding public education. For those who care about social justice the future of higher education, this trend should raise serious alarm. It is a rarer occurrence than it is made out to be, but censorship of all stripes definitely happening across the political spectrum on campus...seemingly more and more.

 

I understand some of these student outbursts, immortalized on YouTube in hundreds of "feminist cringe compilations", as expressions of upset and outrage about the injustices that persist in our modern world. Sometimes it's outrage about an inflammatory or prejudiced statement that a speaker has made. Sometimes it's not even outrage toward the speaker themself, but what they are understood to represent (in Sommers case, "fascism" or "MRAs"). Indeed, we are living through a pretty unbelievable political moment. But I am here to plea for healthier venues for anger, and a more measured approach to these situations in particular. These events are being weaponized to undermine social justice causes. This must be clearly seen, studied, and understood by everyone who cares about these issues.

 

The entire mechanism is rather insidious: the way that students and universities are often blamed for the behaviors of fringe radical groups that infiltrate campuses (like Black Bloc and ANTIFA). The way that fringe extremists have managed to galvanize so much of the social justice discourse online and on campus. The way that peaceful student protesters are framed as hostile to free speech, rather than the very embodiment of it. And most of all, the way that these fall outs have woven a sturdy web of political opportunism for online figures who espouse or are sympathetic to prejudiced views. These outbursts viscerally feed and validate the narratives of those who have built massive audiences united by anger at social justice activists. And those figures are rarely pressed to address actual criticisms of their ideas or effectively held accountable to their claims; instead they are able to show up and take an easy ride on the wave of inevitable outrage over those triggered Those Liberal Snowflakes who Hate Free Speech. I must ask: why are social justice activists making it so easy for their detractors? In today's social media landscape, real life clashes and political conflicts are akin to prime time television. 

 

(Side note: while the schools are a good example of this conflict-as-currency phenomena, I also feel this applies to some social justice outlets and personalities online, who inflame conflicts in order to drive clicks and views. "Marijuana is racist!" "Your fav is problematic!" "Men are trash!" The entire online media machine is fueled by increasing extremism and incentivizes mean spiritedness, seemingly regardless of damage done to people's lives or to our communities. More on that another time.) 

 

There is an alternative to this dumpster fire.

One that is not only more respectful of democratic values, but more effective. It is simple, but it will shock this entire mechanism to its core:

 

1. Let them speak.

Allow me to clarify my own philosophical parameters here: I am not referring to those calling for genocide, those who incite violence, or those who single out and target specific students with abusive comments about their race or gender. In those cases, I do not believe they are entitled to a platform at a university, as they pose a threat to individual safety. I am mostly referring to the more common trend of public figures who criticize social justice ideologies. This is very different than "fascism", and should be addressed as such.

Freedom of speech is for everyone: speakers, audiences, and protestors. Protestors should be thoughtful, and organize in ways that don't undermine their own message or make a martyr of their detractors. For example, one way to do that is:

 

2. Don't show up.

I imagine it would have been pretty disappointing to Yiannopoulos & co to fly out to a university, ready to draw unprecedented levels of attention to themselves, only to be met with an empty auditorium. There is great power in the chirp of crickets, my friends. Use it. Not showing up is a protest. It is deplatforming; it offers the least amount of space in your mind and community. There is no spectacle, no press, no excitement, and no martyrdom. And best of all, no censorship.

 

3. Address their claims. (Actually though.)

If you do show up to their talk, don't scream at them. If you feel strongly about being disruptive, at the very least, please be strategic. Ideally, we should challenge each other's ideas. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Listen to and understand what their arguments really are.

  • If you're unclear, ask clarifying questions.

  • When you identify problems with someone's argument, ask critical questions to highlight inconsistencies, fallacies, harmful implications, and/or hypocrisies. 

  • Speaking of which, know how to spot logical fallacies. Practice identifying them in your own and others arguments.

  • Cite your claims. Cite your refutations of their claims. Know how to spot bad studies.

  • Do not misrepresent your opponents argument or twist it to make it easier to refute.

  • When it doubt, interpret charitably.

  • Pay attention to the types of rhetorical devices they use to make their arguments.

  • Be willing to change your mind or to be wrong sometimes. Everybody has incorrect beliefs. Everybody needs to be willing to identify and correct them.

  • Stay curious and keep asking questions.

If everyone did this, our political conversations would probably be at least 84.4679% less obnoxious. This, in my view, is what effective advocates and intellectuals practice. They make it look easy, but it is a skillset that takes time and practice.

 

And patience.

 

4. Don't confuse bad ideas with bad actors 

Unfortunately, open dialogue isn't always effective. Bad actors can be found in any conversation about politics, especially online where arguments are often a form of performative tribalism. I'm referring to masters of spin who will not engage with ideas honestly, who are too arrogant or too dogmatic in their ideology to have a real exchange of ideas. For dialogue to work, both participants must be committed to it. Beware of public figures who dismiss their critiques and never address their arguments, who make a martyr/perpetual victim of themselves, or who result to name calling, slander, or character assassination. Beware of those who turn up just to cause mischief or make threats of violence. Beware of those who rely on cheap-shots, one liners, and zingers to "own" their opponent. These are all signs of a bad actor. I'm not sure what can be done about them. I just know that they exist. And their tactics are an ongoing problem.

 

However, it's important not to confuse those who have bad ideas with those who are bad actors. Not all feminists hate men (the vast majority don't), and not all those critical of social justice are "nazis" (the vast majority aren't). It's important not to overstate or generalize extremists to large groups of people, or to assume they aren't worth talk to. For instance, most of the figures I've mentioned have openly engaged with me the past year. There is little we share in terms of our values, except perhaps a respect for open dialogue. 

 

Lastly, what of ANTIFA and the like? I'm not sure. Having worked with some people who deadass defend violence as a legitimate tool for progressive...well, I'm not sure we're living on the same plane of reality. But these tactics should be condemned, regardless of what political party they stem from. The actions of extremist groups should also not be blamed on wider populations (in this case, students and campus activists).

 

What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts below. Ciao. 

 

 

 

 

 

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