It was a pleasure to read your recent "Letter to the Editor" in our local newspaper. I had nearly forgotten about you as I have only seen you once since you retired as Professor Emeritus of Sociology here at UNC by the Sea. You will recall that our last encounter was the day your wife was successfully sued in federal court for violating the First Amendment. Thus, it is no coincidence that you have drawn my attention by writing an article urging young people to violate the First Amendment rights of campus speakers by using techniques of violence and vandalism. I guess it is asking too much to expect an old communist to learn a new trick. Nonetheless, I am going to try by offering a rebuttal to your grossly irresponsible manifesto. Please find my un-italicized responses to your words, which are in italics.
"Congratulations to the university students who are aggressively confronting ultra-right wing speakers on their campuses. Why these people are asked to speak in the first place is beyond me."
Before I proceed, let me call you out for your cowardice. You are careful not to make specific references to the kind of “aggression” you are applauding. But you and I both know you are applauding both the interpersonal violence employed by protestors at Middlebury College and the vandalism displayed by protestors at UC-Berkeley.
"Through the ages the university has been a citadel for differing ideas, critical thinking, and debating varying points of view. Today the vast majority of lectures at universities span the gamut of political and social ideologies. The very idea that speech is being stifled by these students is absurd. While I support the current student protests, they are not the norm, contrary to what we hear."
Before I proceed further, let me also comment on your gross intellectual dishonesty. There is simply no one with an IQ above room temperature who believes that there is ideological diversity in terms of who is invited and allowed to speak on our university campuses. The sole controversy is over whether the current lack of ideological diversity is good or bad for higher education. I take the position that it is bad. You take the position that it is good. In that sense, I am both more liberal and tolerant than you are.
"However, to provide a platform for white supremacists, sexists, homophobes, and others who would divide us violates the integrity of the academy. It should not be the responsibility of the university to provide a venue for the intolerant to air their vitriol. Let them spew their spiteful positions in other arenas. The divisive views of the far-right wing demean the academic environment and add nothing whatsoever that is in anyway becoming to the educational experience."
Justice William O. Douglas once said of free speech that it “may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.” You, on the other hand, would seek to ban all speech that is “divisive.” By mixing together the categories of “white supremacy,” “sexism,” and “homophobia,” you tip your hand as to what you consider “divisive views.” You would ban not just the white supremacist but also the person who opposes abortion or same-sex marriage. By “divisive views” you simply mean “ideas that stir Professor Emeritus Gary Faulkner to anger.”
Of course, the propensity to ban all views with which you disagree makes intellectual atrophy inevitable. Such atrophy is on full display when you argue that the university should not “provide a venue for the intolerant.” Somehow, you seem unable to grasp the self-refuting nature of your claim. By arguing that we should be intolerant of speech that is intolerant you negate your own right to speak.
I trust these motivated students -- our daughters and sons -- are able to withstand the onslaught from those of the self-righteous left and right, who have been far too quick to wrap themselves around the First Amendment on this matter.
This is priceless. In your view, the thugs who are inciting violence and vandalizing our campuses are the ones under “onslaught.” And the onslaught is coming from both the left and right. And they are acting irrationally by embracing the First Amendment and criticizing those who would riot. This is classically Orwellian. I am surprised that you stopped short of calling the rioters the Ministers of Peace.
Consider that these students see a different reality, one wherein the time-honored and dignified exchange of ideas at the academy is now threatened by an intrusion of spite, division, and bigotry.
I do not believe these students see a different reality. I believe they are completely detached from reality. And so are you, Gary. The way to bring the “dignified exchange of ideas” is not by rioting in order to silence opposing views. That is called a heckler’s veto. If you were possessed of a sufficient understanding of the Bill of Rights – perhaps just enough to pass high school civics - you would understand that.
Gary, for decades you taught about the need for a Marxist revolution in America. But you lacked the courage to translate your political ideas into reality. Now, in your declining years, you are calling upon young people to incite the kind of violence needed to impose your worldview on those you have failed to persuade.
I would encourage you not to send them into harm’s way. Those of us who are staunch defenders of the First Amendment also tend to be staunch defenders of the Second Amendment. And you can bank on the fact that all proceeds from this column will be spent on ammunition.