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Op-Ed: Progressive Intolerance And The Marketplace Of Ideas

May 13, 2016

A recent op/ed in the New York Times caught my eye.

In his article, A Confession Of Liberal Intolerance, Nicholas Kristof juxtaposed progressives’ love for diversity when it crosses ethnic or gender lines, with their disdain for diversity when it involves conflicting ideas.


“We progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table — er, so long as they aren’t conservatives.”  He wrote.

Kristof mentioned a post he had made on Facebook wondering aloud whether conservatives had been stigmatized to the detriment of intellectual diversity. He went on to share the responses from some of his progressive friends.


“Much of the ‘conservative’ worldview consists of ideas that are known empirically to be false,” said Carmi.

“The truth has a liberal slant,” wrote Michelle.

“Why stop there?” asked Steven. “How about we make faculties more diverse by hiring idiots?”

The article ran as Facebook was being accused of suppressing conservative news stories from its trending section.

According to Gizmodo several former Facebook ‘news curators’ said:

“…they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all.”

It’s no secret that news organizations regularly inject their own biases and slants into their coverage. However, as a highly influential social media platform the idea that Facebook would do so is incredibly troubling.

Before I even had a chance to sit down and write this I heard Joe Rogan and Josh Zepps discussing the topic during a podcast. They were wrapped around the possibility that Facebook’s tactic could have unintended consequences. In other words; could an influx of articles about say Caitlyn Jenner – meant to spread awareness and empathy for the trans community – actually cause a spike in transphobia among those with more traditional views on gender politics?

It certainly seems plausible. If a media outlet suppresses a viewpoint, those who hold that viewpoint may begin to see themselves as an oppressed, intellectual minority, and dig in deeper to defend their side.

But Facebook isn’t the only place where this tactic of suppression has reared its ugly head. The beast is a Medusa and it’s been spitting its venom all over academia. Kristof cited a conversation he had with a black colleague:

“Outside of academia I faced more problems as a black,” he told me. “But inside academia I face more problems as a Christian, and it is not even close.”

The thing is, the ones who are delivering the most serious blows to intellectual diversity on campus aren’t the professors (although they’ve certainly stuck their spoons in the soup) it’s the students!

At the end of 2015, Yale students protested “what they called the racial insensitivity of the school’s administration” following an uproar over Halloween costumes.

Lecturer Erika Christakis had objected to calls for sensitivity when selecting a costume saying, “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious … a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?”

Promoting and defending obnoxious behavior on Halloween? I shudder at the thought. Halloween is no time for tricks or treats. When I dress as Freddy Kreuger it’s because I actually plan on spending my October 31, sneaking into people’s dreams and killing them. Last year I dressed as Anthony Weiner and I still haven’t been allowed back on Twitter.

In a video that went viral a few months ago a student accosted Christakis’ husband, Yale Professor Nicholas Christakis and accused him and his wife of creating an unsafe space on campus.

“In your position as master it is your job to create a place of comfort and home,” the student says. “By sending out that email, it goes against your position.”

Creating an unsafe space? I’m not sure how the professor felt being surrounded by an irate mob of millennial, social justice seeking, children of the corn, but safe probably wasn’t it (although it appears that his invisible force field of white, cis-male, privilege was enough to protect him from physical harm)

A number of comedians have stopped playing college shows over fears of being branded racists, misogynists, rape apologists or whatever ism academia’s neo-McCarthyists in training are railing against today.

Even comedic icon Jerry Seinfeld, who is renowned for his ability to keep it clean and still kill on stage, has taken notice.

Seinfeld says teens and college-aged kids don’t understand what it means to throw around certain politically-correct terms. “They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist;’ ‘That’s sexist;’ ‘That’s prejudice,’” he said. “They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”

Naturally Huffington Post Campus Editor-At-Large for San Diego State University and legendary funny man Anthony Berteaux took umbrage at Seinfeld’s remarks.

“It isn’t so much that college students are too politically correct (whatever your definition of that concept is), it’s that comedy in our progressive society today can no longer afford to be crass, or provocative for the sake of being offensive. Sexist humor and racist humor can no longer exist in comedy because these concepts are based on archaic ideals that have perpetrated injustice against minorities in the past.”

If his arrogance wasn’t indicative of an epidemic mental flaw in so many of today’s college students it might be hilarious. Unfortunately it is all too real. For his next trick Berteaux will teach Sully Sullenberger the correct way to land an airplane on the water.

But if comedy and crude costumes were the biggest concerns on campus perhaps (probably not) this could be overlooked. Sadly they are not.

I’ve mentioned before that there is a growing population of law students who are afraid to study rape law lest they be triggered into imagining a very real crime that one of their future clients could really be charged with.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Students at schools across the country have thrown fits over nothing more than the sight of Donald Trump’s name.

“…they shouted in the quad, “You are not listening! Come speak to us, we are in pain!” and then students moved into the administration building calling out, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

C’mon kids his tan isn’t that scary.

Remember those unintended consequences that I mentioned before? Well students at Emory and elsewhere may have unintentionally protested their worst nightmare all the way to the GOP nomination.

Most recently at UMass an event featuring feminist Christina Hoff Sommers, gay journalist Milo Yiannopolous, and comedian Steven Crowder turned into a circus when a student began howling about…well I’m not sure because her shrieks were so shrill that they became indecipherable.

See for yourself.

The scariest thing about this video isn’t the student’s wailing. It’s that this kind of thing is becoming the norm on campuses across the country. The message from many students has become “If we don’t like what you have to say we will scream so loudly that nobody will be able to hear you say it”…literally.

It’s become so ridiculous that even President Obama has taken notice.

“There’s been a trend around the country of trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view or disrupt a political rally,” Obama said at his commencement addresses at Howard University.”

“Listen, engage, if the other side has a point, learn from them. If they’re wrong, rebut them, teach them, beat them on the battlefield of ideas.”

For the sake of the graduates tender sensibilities I can only hope that the president included a trigger warning to let them know he’d be mentioning a battlefield.

Look, if a college campus is meant to be a safe space, then it should be a safe space for dangerous ideas. It should be a safe space for opinions that we disagree with. It should be a safe space for concepts that challenge our preconceived notions about this massive chasm that we call the universe. It should be a place where we use wit and intellect and facts to defend our positions – or in the face of new, enlightening information – alter them.

As students and academics clamor for diversity on campus they should be careful not to neglect diversity of thought. Nobody is 100 percent correct, 100 percent of the time, nobody. Reasoned, pragmatic, nuanced stances are formed only after taking in a wide range of information from a wide range of sources. To deny this is to see a black and white world where the slightest bit of intellectual curiosity would reveal dozens of shades of gray. So let college campuses stand as intellectual open markets where consumers are free to make informed choices. As in any free market the best ideas will be embraced and the worst will go bankrupt.