Following on…

Catherine MacKinnon and Stanley Fish… are explicit in their disdain for the First Amendment‘s absolutist and noncontextual approach. In her influential book Only Words, MacKinnon, a feminist legal scholar at the University of Michigan, introduced her chapter “Equality and Speech” with the blunt statement that “the law of equality and the law of freedom of speech are on a collision course in this country.” (p. 76).  … MacKinnon noted that … Claiborne Hardware [v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] brought the dichotomy between speech and action into the service of saving the nation’s oldest and best known civil rights organization. She claimed that it was unjust  to accord the two groups the same protection under the First Amendment, as properly interpreted. For MacKinnon, it was not problematic to define a principled basis for treating the NAACP and the Klan differently under the law: “Suppressed entirely in the piously evenhanded treatment of the Klan and the boycotters – the studied inability to tell the difference between oppressor and oppressed that passes for principled neutrality in this area as well as others- was the fact that the Klan was promoting inequality and the civil rights leaders were resisting it, in a country that is supposedly not constitutionally neutral on the subject.” As with Marcuse, the crucial distinction was between the “regressive” and the “progressive”. Stanley Fish’s attitude toward the current judicial interpretation of the First Amendment is refreshingly overt in the title of his 1994 book There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech… And It’s a Good Thing Too.(p. 77.)

Justice Felix Frankfurter, himself the member of a religious minority…recognized that the issue in the case [Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 1940] reflected the “profoundest problem confronting a democracy – the problem which Lincoln cast in a memorable dilemma: “Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?” Posing the question that way virtually assured the answer that liberty was going to have to be compromised…. A mere three years after Gobitis… the Court reviewed another flag pledge case… and this time, by a vote of 6 to 3, even with America herself at war, the justices disavowed Gobitis. ….. In West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)… (w)riting for the majority, Justice Robert Jackson had not quarrel with West Virginia’s requirement that certain courses be taught, nor with its attempts to inspire patriotism by exposing students to national history and traditions. However, the board’s flag salute requirement was different, because it compelled a student “to declare a belief [and]… to utter what is not in his mind.”(p. 188.)

The Court now found that what underlay its decision in Gobitis – the supposed conflict between liberty of conscience and the state’s ability to survive – was both an exaggeration and a distraction from the core constitutional question. The issue was not weak or strong government, but see the strength of America in “individual freedom  of mind” rather than in “officially disciplined uniformity for which history indicates a disappointing and disastrous end.” … Jackson explained why even men of good intentions should not possess the awesome power to compel belief. Both the good and the evil had attempted “to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential.”… In short, Jackson wrote for the majority of the Court, “compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard…. the First Amendment to our Constitution was designed to avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.”(p. 189.)

I would amend that last sentence to read “The strength of America lay in her “individual freedom of mind”, and not in strong government; and that confusing the one with the other paved the way open (as it inevitably would) to overbearing and interfering government and eventually tyranny”. In a word, the road to serfdom.

“The purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution”, he concluded, was precisely to protect “from all official control” the domain that was “the sphere of intellect and spirit.” Barnette, not Gobitis, became the landmark, defining the constitutional and moral norms: the primacy of individual conscience over the social benefits of conformity, the need for each individual to enjoy liberty in order for a common liberty to exist, and the intolerability of restricting even one person’  liberty in “the sphere of intellect and spirit” in an attempt to create some better world. (p. 190.)

Colleges and universities have accepted a new “compensatory” version of separate but unequal. Whites obviously could not veto the presence of nonwhites in a college dormitory. Such inequality arises from the universities’ belief that its students are not individuals, but instances of blood and history. (p. 201.)

If one truly believes in the liberty of gay and lesbian students, of course, the real struggle is not for special privilege, but for equal rights. (p. 203.)

The academic mania for group identity presupposes what free individuals must decide for themselves – the nature and compound of their own individual lives. Blacks are free to be , by their own individual choices, radical, moderate, conservative, or apolitical; separatist or assimilationist; Afrocentric of South Carolinian. They do not need universities to assign them identities. (p. 204.)

On December 6, Robert Chatelle replied on the sexual-minority listserve of the National Writers Union, observing that “gay men are no more or less ‘vulnerable’ (or ‘sensitive’ of ‘artistic’) than any other class of citizens.” Indeed, Chatelle noted, Pearson “was engaging in negative stereotyping,” which, “ironically enough … is forbidden under the speech code she was defending.” “Scratch a defender of ‘political correctness’,” he observed, “and you’ll find some variety of bigot. For Chatelle, “defenders of ‘political correctness’ subscribe to two myths that are damaging to the rights of minorities: … vulnerability and .. interchangeability.” The “myth of vulnerability,” Chatelle observed, is based on the patronizing belief that “members of minority groups are so damaged by discrimination that we become incapable of speaking for ourselves… We are not. We want equal rights. But it is difficult to make that argument convincing when people like Sue Pearson are going around and stating that gay men are ‘vulnerable’ people who need ‘special’ protection.” The “myth of interchangeability,” for Chatelle, was equally dangerous. It “holds that there is such a thing as ‘the women’s viewpoint,’ the ‘gay/lesbian viewpoint,’ [or] the African-American viewpoint.'” (p. 205.)

This mentality, or the “myth of interchangeability”, sounds like polylogism, from which, perhaps, it originated: Marx and the Marxians, foremost among them the “proletarian philosopher” Dietzgen, taught that thought is determined by the thinker’s class position. What thinking produces is not truth but “ideologies.” This word means, in the context of Marxian philosophy, a disguise of the selfish interest of the social class to which the thinking individual is attached. It is therefore useless to discuss anything with people of another social class. Ideologies do not need to be refuted by discursive reasoning; they must be unmasked by denouncing the class position, the social background, of their authors. Thus Marxians do not discuss the merits of physical theories; they merely uncover the “bourgeois” origin of the physicists.

A perverted, but very common, form of this is hilariously illustrated by C.S. Lewis in his allegorical story, “The Pilgrim’s Regress“:  to refute the “argument” that two plus two equals four, the “correct refutation” is “You only say that because you are a mathematician!”

The assumption is that the identity of individuals at our universities is inseparable from those official categories that the university recognizes, quite independently of how such individuals view themselves. Diversity means the acceptance of those distinctions by blood and history. Multiculturalism means the acceptance of the view that individual students exist not as individuals, but as instances of group identity useful to some partisan  understanding of the history of oppression. (p. 206.)

To understand the moral consequence of academic official group identity, consider the appalling predicament of students from multiracial families. At Penn, in 1995, students formed an organization with the sardonic name “Check One”… [which] “takes its name from the fact that one is asked literally to check one race or ethnic group when filling out standardized forms… We are largely an ignored people, and segregation, which preserves and reinforces culture, can also serve to exclude us.” Members were not “half-and-half”… because they were not made up “of segmented parts… distant and separate pieces.” (p. 208.)

This resonated with me: in Japan, children of mixed marriages are dubbed “half”. I could never understand the American predilection for checking off one’s racial identity; what if you did not belong neatly into any of the categories offered? And why is it so important for the authorities to know?

At Standford, Carl Hicks, a Korean and black senior, formed, with other students uncomfortable with Standford’s official group identities, an organization called Prism. He understood the immoral and intended consequence of current academic multiculturalism and anti-individualism: “When I got to Standford I didn’t think of myself as black or Korean or white. I thought of myself as Carl Hicks. But everyone kept labeling me.” (p. 209.)

Out of the mouths of babes…

Attendance at group-identity organizations is often minuscule as a percentage of the intended population, and militant leaders complain endlessly about “apathy.” Whites don’t feel particularly guilty about being white, and almost no designated “victims” adopt truly radical politics. Most undergraduates unabashedly seek their portion of American freedom, legal equality, and bounty. What to do with such benighted students? Increasingly, the answer to that question is to use the in loco parentis apparatus of the university to reform their private consciences and minds. (p. 211.)

Penn [State University] simply set about to control the ways its students thought about and valued the world. It viewed incoming students as incapable, on their own, of sorting out their differences and their common humanity, of understanding how to live decently, and of thinking critically about America. Above all, the university viewed its students as ignorant of the real nature of their group identities. One student on the subcommittee on “Diversity Follow-Up Program” complained in a memo about the planners’ contempt for individualism and individual identity, their “desire… continually to consider the collective before the individual.”… A fellow committee member, an administrator, underlined the word “individual” on the student’s memo, and replied that “This is a ‘RED FLAG’ phrase today, which is considered by many to be RACIST.” “Arguments that champion the INDIVIDUAL over the group,” he informed her, “ultimately priveleges [sic] the ‘INDIVIDUAL’ belonging to the dominant group.” Indeed, he concluded, “in a pluralistic society, individuals are only as significant their groups.” (p. 213.)

There are core beliefs of current thought reform. An individual is not an autonomous moral being, but a member of a racial and historical group that possesses moral debt or credit. There is only on e appropriate set of views about race, gender, sexual preference, and culture, and holding an inappropriate belief, once truth has been offered, is not an intellectual disagreement, but a act of oppression or denial. (p. 215.)

Katherine Balmer, assistant dean for freshmen [at Columbia University], said, “You can’t bring all these people together and say, ‘Now be one big happy community,’ without some sort of training [ emphasis added]” (p. 218.)

Northwestern University, for the planning of its New Student Week in 1989, formed a Cultural Diversity Project Committee…  One pleased committee member told the reporter, “It’s basically a white guilt organization.” The next day, New Student Week began, and the keynote speaker informed fifteen hundred freshmen that there were not to blame for the “customs and habits of thought” inherited from their parents and communities, but that they now must remake their lives, ridding themselves of “the ugliness, the meanness, …[ the] narrowness and[the] tribalism.” Students then had to discuss the lecture, led by the “facilitators” who had been trained the day before. (p. 221.)

The shame is that it does not require deep courage to resist the sacrifice of liberty and legal equality for peace. There are nations in the world where a college president indeed would risk his life by standing up for academic freedom. That is not the situation in the United States today. What is required is not so much courage as dedication to liberty and legal equality supported by just a bit of backbone. The fact that our academic leaders are not up tot his task is alarming. The fear of disruption, of causing offense, of being associated with controversy, linked to careerism, has produced a hollow, unprincipled cowardice. (p. 329.)

And speaking of the Supreme Court’s upholding the First Amendment against the rising tide of political correctness, just one month ago,

Today, the United States Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Citizens United v. FCC, voting 5-4 to stand by the Constitution and protect our First Amendment right to free speech. Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court, said, “We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.”

Penny Young Nance, Concerned Women for America’s (CWA) Chief Executive Officer, said, “The Court correctly concluded that judges should stop playing semantics with our Constitution and read the text as it is written. The government should not be limiting political speech because someone is rich or poor, or because they disagree with a particular point of view.”

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]