Stanford University has again proved itself to be a cesspit of hostility toward the First Amendment.
In the most recent attack on free speech at its law school, a mob of students — egged on by Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tirien Steinbach — shouted down Fifth Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan who had been invited to speak by the Stanford chapter of the Federalist Society.
If we are ever to combat such mob rule, we must first try to analyze exactly what it represents, beyond its appalling spectacle. It illustrates how political censorship and demonization are standard political tools used to socially isolate people. Tyrants have always strived for such isolation to establish regimes of ironclad social control. Understanding this pattern is key for successful pushback.
Every American should take note of the Stanford incident. The mob rule displayed there is a small sample of what everyone will experience if we do not push back hard against mounting assaults on free speech.
The situation worsened after the dean of the law school, Jenny Martinez, and Stanford President Marc Tessier-Levigne issued a tepid letter of apology to Duncan, stating that the disruption was “inconsistent with our policies on free speech.”
The psychotic mob grew as hundreds of activists quickly mobilized to punish Martinez by lining the hallways outside her classroom. The 10 or so students (out of some 60) in Martinez’s class who did not join the mob were also harassed by the masked protesters all clad in Antifa-black. Such folks are the sort to whom Stanford’s administrators suggested the school’s Federalist Society should “reach out.”
War on Speech or War on Thought?
But we should expect no less from the institution that served as ground zero for the elimination of free inquiry in universities across America.
Gag orders against any form of real conversation have accelerated at American colleges at least since 1987 when Jesse Jackson led a mob through Stanford’s campus chanting “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Western Civ has got to go!”
And what aspect of the canon of Western Civilization do you think most bothered the academic mafia behind that attack? They may have raised concerns about too many “dead white males” in Western literature or about the possibility of finding bigotry and the acceptance of slavery in those writings. But they were rallying primarily against inquiry itself.
What they have always hated most about the Western canon is that it cultivates independent thought. Nothing irritates aspiring tyrants more than the true cross-pollination of ideas. They hate free speech precisely because free speech is pro-thought. They have decided they alone possess the “right answer,” and free speech threatens it.
Hence, they lead the anti-thought camp eager to abolish the exploration of ideas, the Socratic method, respect for the individual, and civil discourse — all of which are inherent in Western civilization. Free speech serves as the foundation for any vibrant civilization, Western or otherwise.
Lip Service to Free Speech
I suppose we should see it as a sign of hope that the enemies of free speech still give it some lip service. But Stanford’s official apology feels like just another limited hangout, a partial concession used as a stopgap measure to preserve the anti-speech agenda. Even Steinbach punctuated her defamatory attacks against Duncan with the false claim that she somehow believes in free speech.
The mob agitation that followed the official apology proved that there is a very organized effort to shut down speech at Stanford, particularly speech in defense of free speech. The activist mob of hundreds, who gathered to intimidate Martinez and the students who refused to join them, wore masks upon which was written the absurd slogan “counter speech is free speech.” In other words, mob rule that shuts down the speech of others through intimidation bordering on violence is, in some Orwellian fashion, free speech.
But I do not think members of such mobs really believe all of the wokeness stuff about victimhood, etc. They merely join to avoid the ostracism that tyrants always use as a political weapon against dissidents. The irony is that any relief is short-lived because mass compliance with this anti-speech and anti-thought agenda promises to be suicidal for society at large.
Censorship Is Meant to Separate
The war on the First Amendment seems to have reached a tipping point that bodes ill for everyone in America, not just on campuses. As Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger pointed out so clearly, there is indeed a “Censorship-Industrial Complex” that involves the government, Big Tech, the media, and numerous other institutions.
And the assaults have become more blatant — from the government’s push for a “Disinformation Governance Board,” to MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough’s recent claim that the First Amendment is “out of date,” to Sen. Chuck Schumer’s insistence on shutting down Fox News, the only sizable cable media outlet not entirely captured by the Censorship-Industrial Complex.
Few people seem to understand that constraints on political speech have the cruel effect of atomizing people. At Stanford, we saw how it results in mind-rape that turns otherwise bright people into flying monkeys for their woke masters. The same thing happened at Yale Law School when a mob shouted down an open panel on the issue of free speech. Afterward, the mob got some 60 percent of Yale law students to sign a letter condemning the event.
Think of it this way: When you can’t speak openly to people, you are in effect isolated from them. So the tragedy of political censorship is that it cuts us off from one another, dividing us and cultivating hostilities. The First Amendment protects the private sphere of life, including our families, our faith, and all of the relationships that give us inner strength.
This is not a guess. Look at any society in which a regime shuts down speech through threats and punishments. The outcome is a society of fear, social distrust, and high anxiety wherever a one-party state enforces its narrative. Hardcore political censorship induces the isolation and terror that has always been essential for propping up totalitarian regimes, including Jacobin France, Stalin’s Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and Mao’s murderous Cultural Revolution in China.
Those who stray from the narrative are, at the very least, canceled as “non-persons” and punished severely. The narratives to describe dissidents — “counterrevolutionaries!” “conspiracy theorists!” “anti-vaxxers!” “transphobes!” “bigots!” “fascists!” — are designed to foment mobs and cultivate widespread hostility. How far down this road we have come in America is suggested by the ongoing loneliness epidemic and the rampant growth of cancel culture.
We have seen these anti-speech tactics transpire a thousand times before. Political censorship is a dead end for any functioning society. It poisons our relationships.
On the other hand, watch what happens when a door opens to real conversation:
We end up in a virtual state of isolation when we self-censor out of the fear of being ostracized. Free speech, on the other hand, acts as a beam of light that leads us to know others — and to know we are not alone.