For Pacific Standard, I write about the free speech complexities of the upcoming “free speech week.” First, the organizers didn’t even ask the speakers or book the spaces before they started crying oppression. Second, “security concerns” forced the Anthropology department to cancel a long-planned talk.
“Thanks to “safety concerns,” the annual distinguished lecture of the Department of Anthropology at Berkeley was canceled. Dr. Anna Tsing, a leading anthropologist, was going to speak at the Morrison Library. Then administrators told the department that although this lecture had been scheduled many months in advance, the presence of Yiannopoulos on campus at the same time as this lecture would either need extra security (paid for by the department) or else a new venue at the last minute; failing that, they would have to reschedule.. In other words, Yiannopoulos’ potentially phony “Free Speech Week” abrogated the very real speech rights of a brilliant scholar. In a joint letter, Berkeley faculty wrote, “If this ‘Year of Free Speech’ is about giving an equal platform to all speakers, it would seem that it has already failed. Hate speech has taken precedence over academic discourse.”
Free speech is messy. One person yells. Another is silenced. These situations require deep thinking and careful investigation of how to defend a core American freedom. What we can’t do is promote simplistic, absolutist fealty to abstract rights without exception because that creates the potential for Yiannopoulos’ mischief.”