With all the recent flurry regarding political correctness, appeasing every hypersensitive “offended” person, and American universities’ growing censorship of free speech, I, as a millennial and college student, have some things to say.
“Look, the purpose of college is not just, as I said before, to transmit skills. It’s also to widen your horizons; to make you a better citizen; to help you to evaluate information, to help you make your way through the world; to help you be more creative. The way to do that is to create a space where a lot of ideas are presented and collide and people are having arguments and people are testing each other’s theories, and over time people learn from each other because they’re getting out of their own narrow point of view and having a broader point of view.” – President Barack Obama (in a Q&A from last week’s town hall meeting in Dez Moines, Iowa)
One of our country’s biggest concerns is that universities aren’t defending free speech. Moreover, this, a nonpartisan issue, and doesn’t have any relevance to political, social, and cultural dispositions. Conservative Christian? Liberal atheist? Non-English speaking minority? Whatever you are, you should appreciate and defend free speech, i.e. the ability to facilitate dynamic breeding grounds for opinions, ideas, and inventions.
When you have a people or entity watching over what you hear and say, you are very much in an anti-intellectual environment. This is historically obvious and we’ve seen it in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Pre-1789 France, the Spanish Inquisition, theocratic Islamic countries, etc. Censorship, cultural monotony, and demographic homogony don’t work and, aside from objective historical recollection, I know this because I’ve been trying to free myself from these things my whole life. On a personal level, I feel that I learn the most about myself, my views, and the world when I’m around people with whom I don’t share similar beliefs. (Meno’s Paradox suggests “you can’t inquire into something once you know it” and that’s very evident when you put a thousand like-minded people into a room; you don’t have anything to talk about.) Furthermore, this exposure to all types of people has allowed me, as President Obama suggested in the above excerpt, to learn to be polite, respectful, and appreciative towards people, rather than judge them by the labels on their heads.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – The First Amendment of the United States’ Constitution
I believe that universities should emulate the government’s policy regarding free speech. If we students can’t freely talk about our ideas, beliefs, fears, wonders, goals, hopes, worries, concerns, and dreams, how can we ever build relationships and trust from people who are different than us? How can we say we’re prepared for our future? If we can’t discuss the differences that bewilder us, or things we’re simply curious about, without fear of radiating offense, then how can we overcome our ignorance of cultures and race?
The idea of political correctness (PC) echoes wonderfully in a utopia: sensitivity and understanding of culture, gender, race, religion, etc. And names definitely do wonders of damage; names have the potential to shame, ridicule, and humiliate. Some may concern race or gender; others refer to body weight, facial features, or particular parts of one’s anatomy. Names that tie in with social class or which part of the country you are from can also be hurtful, as can names that include religion, age, or physical ability. Nobody likes to be called an unkind, disrespectful, or downright cruel name. I’ll give PC this victory—it can prevent people from being damaged by awful names—but overall it has a lot more losses.
PC tends to mold “offended” and overly-sensitive people, which creates a much bigger problem than the one PC was created to solve. Thanks to this, there is a new plethora of name-calling that can be equally hurtful and destructive as the aforementioned ones: names such as “racist,” “homophobe,” “sexist,” “bigot,” “anti-Semite,” and the like. Just because you call yourself the victim doesn’t mean you can elevate yourself to a bully! I’m certainly not denying that there are racists, homophobes, sexists, bigots, anti-Semites, as well as victims out there, but many of us toss these labels around at the drop of a hat, without much understanding what the labels actually mean—not to mention the damage done by accusations of sexism, racism, etc. An accusation alone can be enough to besmirch careers, obliterate reputations, or even be used to invalidate a lifetime of work. And what instigates these accusations? Sometimes it’s just a little comment taken out of context, a clumsy attempt at humor, or a creative person’s raw artistic expression. Even comedians can’t talk about taboo topics (without getting hammered by the press) anymore; we’ve become so ignorant, so silent of these issues that we, literally and figuratively, can’t be in the same room with people different than us without discomfort and tension. This is distressing to minorities, majorities- it’s horrible for everybody.
“To those who serve in today’s PC Police, I understand that your intentions are good. But there is often a big gap between intent and impact. I would invite you to consider the impact of your censorship and finger-wagging, as well as your inclination to self-righteous, moral indignation. You don’t realize it, but you’re effectively throwing a wet blanket over public (and private) discussions of vitally important issues. You’ve gone too far in your efforts to protect everyone’s feelings. You’re essentially imposing a gag order on the whole of American society, and in so doing, you’re hindering our progress in getting to know one another and to understand others’ different perspectives, viewpoints, feelings, and life experiences.” – Huffington Post’s BJ Gallagher
Solution? Dissolve societal PC and let free speech—especially in colleges—flow unabridged. [Keep in mind, however, that this does not include harassment, threats, and the like.] If we can’t “free” free speech then we’re surely doomed to immortalize the very barriers we aspire to overcome.
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