Fighting Safe Space Culture & College Censorship: The Best Weapon Is Ridicule

Sometimes the best weapon against the New Age Censors on university campuses is laughter at their desire to be treated like babies

All defenders of free speech have a duty to push back against the growing hordes of petty, censorious student activists and their childish demands for trigger warnings, safe spaces and the banning of speakers with contradictory opinions from campus. But it is equally important that we do not go so far that we inadvertently give additional weight – and a false sense of seriousness – to their demands.

Scholarly articles certainly have their part to play – “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas” by Judith Shulevitz in the New York Times, for example, was instrumental in bringing the problem of infantilised students to a wider audience. And this blog tries to contribute in its own way too, with pointed critiques of the students who want to ban clapping, demands that universities teach adults the meaning of sexual consent, and the abuse of the label “problematic” to ban unwanted ideas and opinions.

But sometimes humour can achieve more than ten earnest articles making the same point. And so it is gratifying to see both South Park and satirical newspaper The Onion take on these symptoms of student infantilisation.

South Park recently devoted an entire episode of their current season to the topic of safe spaces – see the excerpt above, or watch the entire episode online if you are based in the United States.

And as is so often the case, hearing the language of safe spaces and “harmful” ideas spout from the mouths of Randy Marsh or Eric Cartman does more to render this burgeoning culture ridiculous than all the books in the world – even the excellent “Trigger Warning: Is the fear of being offensive killing free speech?” by Mick Hume, which I am currently reading.

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Outlawing “Islamophobia” – The Folly Of Hate Crime Laws

Hate Crime Laws - Islamophobia - Labour Party - Ed Miliband - South Park

 

By Ben Kelly, blogger and editor of The Sceptic Isle.

According to Muslim News, Ed Miliband has promised to make “Islamophobia” illegal: 

“We are going to make it an aggravated crime. We are going to make sure it is marked on people’s records with the police to make sure they root out Islamophobia as a hate crime […]We are going to change the law on this so we make it absolutely clear of our abhorrence of hate crime and Islamophobia. It will be the first time that the police will record Islamophobic attacks right across the country,” Ed allegedly told the editor of The Muslim NewsAhmed J. Versi.

Now, I cannot be certain as to the veracity of this statement nor the accuracy of the quotations. I am not certain of the integrity or quality of The Muslim News so I am assessing this with some scepticism while using it as a starting point to discuss a broader theme.

For me, whether Ed Miliband really intends this or not, it is a reminder of the essentially morally corrupt nature of the concept of hate crime. Is it healthy that Muslims should rejoice that they will be recognised by a law identifying them as a separate group, worthy of a special law, to gain parity with Jews and homosexuals? I would contend that it would be better for the social fabric of our society that their sense of separation be eroded rather than made official by law.

Hate crime is identity politics in legislative form, it erodes the principles that uphold the common law; that all are equal before it, it is the law of the land and applies to all, rich, poor, black, white, Muslim, Christian, the government and the governed. Hate crime is divisive because it creates further barriers and aggravates the sense of otherness that minority groups feel.

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“Patriot” Watch

Let me whisk you on a journey to an alternate universe.

A dark, scary universe where the government bombs their own citizens in “false flag” terrorist attacks in order to create an excuse to curtail civil liberties.

A threatening world where most people are “sheeple”, unwittingly controlled by the shadowy leaders of the New World Order, and only a few brave “patriots” know the truth and stand up for their freedom.

A world where your every spare dollar should be spent on firearms and ammunition, survival seeds, water purification systems, freeze-dried food rations and your subscriptions to the few media outlets brave enough to tell you the truth.

Welcome to the world of Alex Jones, and InfoWars:

 

This is a typical Alex Jones show, though I could easily have shown any other – the message is always the same, and the “urgent breaking news” the same recycled expositions carried over from one show to the next. Here’s the most recent:

 

To watch Alex Jones at work is to enter into a world where you are under permanent siege by the forces of darkness – it is by no coincidence that the Imperial Death March from Star Wars is used to open many of the segments.

I must admit that the show is strangely addictive, and without wishing to sound condescending to all of the true believers and regular listeners, I can understand the appeal. It’s nice to think of oneself as being part of a small band of people who understand the truth, who know what is coming and who are getting prepared. It’s nice to have that feeling of camaraderie and belonging. And when startling, inexplicable events such as the recent Boston Marathon bombing suddenly explode into the news, it can be comforting to be able to neatly fit the bad things that are happening into a pre-existing narrative that some of these conspiracy theories provide.

If one can understand the appeal of these conspiracy theories to the people who believe them, one can certainly understand their appeal to the people and outlets who ply their trade in peddling them. The idea that the Boston Marathon bombing was a deliberately staged “false flag” attack isn’t a widely held opinion, but the people who do believe things like this represent a very lucrative market for certain right-wing media outlets.

Aside from making money selling subscriptions to your news outlet by telling people that you are the only one that can be trusted to deliver the truth, you can also make money selling advertising space to the people who sell survival seeds and emergency food rations, and body armour, and home security systems, and all manner of things. There is a hugely vibrant economic ecosystem at work here. It reminds me somewhat of South Park’s hilarious takedown of the Jewellery Channel Shopping – Cash4Gold store cycle:

 

I think Rachel Maddow sums it up the best in her analysis on her MSNBC show. She basically concludes that as long as these fringe conspiracies remain at the fringe, they do no real harm (at least not to those who don’t buy in). But the problem comes when a conspiracy becomes too lucrative and tempting, and starts to be embraced by a major political party, as has recently been happening with the InfoWars-style theories and some elements within the US Republican party.

 

As Maddow notes, even notable politicians such as former Congressman Ron Paul will sometimes go on the Alex Jones show; not, I believe, because they truly buy into all of the conspiracy theories themselves (you can listen to Ron Paul squirm and prevaricate as Jones tries to gain the Ron Paul seal of approval for some of his wackier ideas in the segment below), but because they know they can pick up valuable support and engagement from the audience who do buy into the whole package:

 

This is disappointing from Ron Paul, a man whose stance in favour of liberty I respect immensely, and whose insurgent campaign for the Republican nomination for president I strongly supported. When good people like Ron Paul flirt with outlets like InfoWars, it weakens their message and makes supporters such as myself look stupid by association.

Nonetheless, I shall continue to join Alex Jones and his merry band for a few minutes every week, for the amusement value of the whole experience. It makes perfect background noise whilst doing something more profitable. You can leave the room while he is talking about secret underground biological weapon labs underneath shopping malls, the perils of the Large Hadron Collider, the imminent declaration of martial law, FEMA prison camps, the dangers of water fluoridation, or the New World Order. And when you come back, he will still be talking about secret underground biological weapon labs underneath shopping malls, the perils of the Large Hadron Collider, the imminent declaration of martial law, FEMA prison camps, the dangers of water fluoridation, or the New World Order…

There is a kind of beautiful, self-contained symmetry to the whole experience.

So think of me tonight, peeking through my drawn curtains, baseball bat at the ready, drinking my filtered water and eating my freeze-dried meal, and communing with America’s real patriot community.

Monday Musical Interlude

I can not in good conscience make this performance my “Music For The Day”, but if your tastes tend toward the idiosyncratic, or if you are a South Park fan, then this recording by Wing is worth a few minutes of your time:

 

My own interpretation of Beyoncé’s  “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” is actually not dissimilar from Wing’s.