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Thread: Chilling Orwellianism at NYU

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    Administrator Dreadnaught's Avatar
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    Default Chilling Orwellianism at NYU

    This piece so disturbed some people, they had to add a disclaimer emphasizing it wasn't official policy of New Yawk University. A week or two old, but my my the sway towards the idea of speech as a zero-sum game.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/24/o...ee-speech.html

    What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech

    At one of the premieres of his landmark Holocaust documentary, “Shoah” (1985), the filmmaker Claude Lanzmann was challenged by a member of the audience, a woman who identified herself as a Holocaust survivor. Lanzmann listened politely as the woman recounted her harrowing personal account of the Holocaust to make the point that the film failed to fully represent the recollections of survivors. When she finished, Lanzmann waited a bit, and then said, “Madame, you are an experience, but not an argument.”

    This exchange, conveyed to me by the Russian literature scholar Victor Erlich some years ago, has stayed with me, and it has taken on renewed significance as the struggles on American campuses to negotiate issues of free speech have intensified — most recently in protests at Auburn University against a visit by the white nationalist Richard Spencer.

    Lanzmann’s blunt reply favored reasoned analysis over personal memory. In light of his painstaking research into the Holocaust, his comment must have seemed insensitive but necessary at the time. Ironically, “Shoah” eventually helped usher in an era of testimony that elevated stories of trauma to a new level of importance, especially in cultural production and universities.

    During the 1980s and ’90s, a shift occurred in American culture; personal experience and testimony, especially of suffering and oppression, began to challenge the primacy of argument. Freedom of expression became a flash point in this shift. Then as now, both liberals and conservatives were wary of the privileging of personal experience, with its powerful emotional impact, over reason and argument, which some fear will bring an end to civilization, or at least to freedom of speech.

    My view (and, like all the views expressed here, it does not represent the views or policies of my employer, New York University) is that we should resist the temptation to rehash these debates. Doing so would overlook the fact that a thorough generational shift has occurred. Widespread caricatures of students as overly sensitive, vulnerable and entitled “snowflakes” fail to acknowledge the philosophical work that was carried out, especially in the 1980s and ’90s, to legitimate experience — especially traumatic experience — which had been dismissed for decades as unreliable, untrustworthy and inaccessible to understanding.

    The philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, best known for his prescient analysis in “The Postmodern Condition” of how public discourse discards the categories of true/false and just/unjust in favor of valuing the mere fact that something is being communicated, examined the tension between experience and argument in a different way.

    Instead of defining freedom of expression as guaranteeing the robust debate from which the truth emerges, Lyotard focused on the asymmetry of different positions when personal experience is challenged by abstract arguments. His extreme example was Holocaust denial, where invidious but often well-publicized cranks confronted survivors with the absurd challenge to produce incontrovertible eyewitness evidence of their experience of the killing machines set up by the Nazis to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Not only was such evidence unavailable, but it also challenged the Jewish survivors to produce evidence of their own legitimacy in a discourse that had systematically denied their humanity.

    Lyotard shifted attention away from the content of free speech to the way certain topics restrict speech as a public good. Some things are unmentionable and undebatable, but not because they offend the sensibilities of the sheltered young. Some topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms.

    The recent student demonstrations at Auburn against Spencer’s visit — as well as protests on other campuses against Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos and others — should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship. Liberal free-speech advocates rush to point out that the views of these individuals must be heard first to be rejected. But this is not the case. Universities invite speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries, but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.

    In such cases there is no inherent value to be gained from debating them in public. In today’s age, we also have a simple solution that should appease all those concerned that students are insufficiently exposed to controversial views. It is called the internet, where all kinds of offensive expression flourish unfettered on a vast platform available to nearly all.

    The great value and importance of freedom of expression, for higher education and for democracy, is hard to overestimate. But it has been regrettably easy for commentators to create a simple dichotomy between a younger generation’s oversensitivity and free speech as an absolute good that leads to the truth. We would do better to focus on a more sophisticated understanding, such as the one provided by Lyotard, of the necessary conditions for speech to be a common, public good. This requires the realization that in politics, the parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing.

    The rights of transgender people for legal equality and protection against discrimination are a current example in a long history of such redefinitions. It is only when trans people are recognized as fully human, rather than as men and women in disguise, as Ben Carson, the current secretary of housing and urban development claims, that their rights can be fully recognized in policy decisions.

    The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.

    THE STUDENT ACTIVISM that has roiled campuses — at Auburn, Missouri, Yale, Berkeley, Middlebury and elsewhere — is an opportunity to take stock of free speech issues in a changed world. It is also an opportunity to take into account the past few decades of scholarship that has honed our understanding of the rights to expression in higher education, which maintains particularly high standards of what is worthy of debate.

    The recent controversies over the conflict between freedom of expression and granting everyone access to speech hark back to another telling moment. In 1963, Yale University had rescinded an invitation to Alabama’s segregationist governor, George C. Wallace. In 1974, after unruly protests prevented William Shockley from debating his recommendation for voluntary sterilization of people with low I.Q.s, and other related incidents, Yale issued a report on how best to uphold the value of free speech on campus that remains the gold standard for many other institutions.

    Unlike today’s somewhat reflexive defenders of free speech, the Yale report situated the issue of free speech on campus within the context of an increasingly inclusive university and the changing demographics of society at large. While Yale bemoaned the occasional “paranoid intolerance” of student protesters, the university also criticized the “arrogant insensitivity” of free speech advocates who failed to acknowledge that requiring of someone in public debate to defend their human worth conflicts with the community’s obligation to assure all of its members equal access to public speech.

    It is perhaps telling that in the 1980s and ’90s, while I was also a doctoral student there, Yale ultimately became the hotbed of philosophical thinking that acknowledged the claims of people who had not been granted full participation in public discourse. Their accounts, previously dismissed as “unspeakable” or “unimaginable,” now gained legitimacy in redefining the rules of what counts as public speech. Lyotard taught at Yale in early 1990s, and his and others’ thoughts on how to resolve the asymmetry in discussions between perpetrators and victims of systemic or personal violence, without curtailing speech too much, seeped into other disciplines.

    Lyotard and others were interested in expanding the frames of discourse, as they had been before, when married women were granted full legal status after centuries of having their very being legally suspended upon marriage.

    When Yale issued its guidelines about free speech, it did so to account for a new reality, in the early 1970s, when increasing numbers of minority students and women enrolled at elite college campuses. We live in a new reality as well. We should recognize that the current generation of students, roundly ridiculed by an unholy alliance of so-called alt-right demagogues and campus liberals as coddled snowflakes, realized something important about this country before the pundits and professors figured it out.

    What is under severe attack, in the name of an absolute notion of free speech, are the rights, both legal and cultural, of minorities to participate in public discourse. The snowflakes sensed, a good year before the election of President Trump, that insults and direct threats could once again become sanctioned by the most powerful office in the land. They grasped that racial and sexual equality is not so deep in the DNA of the American public that even some of its legal safeguards could not be undone.

    The issues to which the students are so sensitive might be benign when they occur within the ivory tower. Coming from the campaign trail and now the White House, the threats are not meant to merely offend. Like President Trump’s attacks on the liberal media as the “enemies of the American people,” his insults are meant to discredit and delegitimize whole groups as less worthy of participation in the public exchange of ideas.

    As a college professor and university administrator with over two decades of direct experience of campus politics, I am not overly worried that even the shrillest heckler’s vetoes will end free speech in America. As a scholar of literature, history and politics, I am especially attuned to the next generation’s demands to revise existing definitions of free speech to accommodate previously delegitimized experiences. Freedom of expression is not an unchanging absolute. When its proponents forget that it requires the vigilant and continuing examination of its parameters, and instead invoke a pure model of free speech that has never existed, the dangers to our democracy are clear and present.

    We should thank the student protestors, the activists in Black Lives Matter and other “overly sensitive” souls for keeping watch over the soul of our republic.

    Ulrich Baer is vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity, and professor of comparative literature at New York University, and the author of “We Are But a Moment,” a novel.

  2. #2
    Let sleeping tigers lie Khendraja'aro's Avatar
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    And what exactly would be "Orwellian" about this?
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    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    The author clearly doesn't understand what free speech means.
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    Let sleeping tigers lie Khendraja'aro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    The author clearly doesn't understand what free speech means.
    I think the author knows exactly what it means to some people - and, like me, is of the opinion that unbound freedom is a moronic idea and simply does not work with humans.
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    He wants personal experience to replace reason. He cites post-modernists. That's an offense to science and the enlightenment. It's a path towards alternative facts.
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    SEÑOR Member Aimless's Avatar
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    The author almost certainly understands what freedom of speech means in the strictest sense on which the amateur jurists of Reddit tend to fixate. He's nevertheless making a case for approaching the concept in a way that acknowledges its broader context, which is arguably the way things have already been for decades esp. when it comes to the question of speech on college campuses.

    Perhaps we're reading two different texts, but I don't see him arguing for the wholesale replacement of "reason" with "personal experience". If anything, he's taking a similar approach to one you took when you recently engaged RB and Lewk in discussions of systemic racism and Islamophobia.
    Last edited by Aimless; 05-01-2017 at 06:02 PM.
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    Let sleeping tigers lie Khendraja'aro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    He wants personal experience to replace reason. He cites post-modernists. That's an offense to science and the enlightenment. It's a path towards alternative facts.
    This statement of yours does not really wash with the arguments he's making. From the very first paragraph:

    At one of the premieres of his landmark Holocaust documentary, “Shoah” (1985), the filmmaker Claude Lanzmann was challenged by a member of the audience, a woman who identified herself as a Holocaust survivor. Lanzmann listened politely as the woman recounted her harrowing personal account of the Holocaust to make the point that the film failed to fully represent the recollections of survivors. When she finished, Lanzmann waited a bit, and then said, “Madame, you are an experience, but not an argument.”
    This is arguing the exact opposite of what you're claiming, Loki.
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    SEÑOR Member Aimless's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Khendraja'aro View Post
    This is arguing the exact opposite of what you're claiming, Loki.
    I believe that anecdote is intended to represent, if not the opposite of, then at least a very different view to the one the author endorses. He presents the exchange as an illustration of attitudes from which we've progressed or that have at the very least evolved.
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    Senior Member Enoch the Red's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aimless View Post
    I believe that anecdote is intended to represent, if not the opposite of, then at least a very different view to the one the author endorses. He presents the exchange as an illustration of attitudes from which we've progressed or that have at the very least evolved.
    That was my reading of it as well.

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    I'm just curious as to who the author thinks should decide what is beyond the pale and what isn't. Do we determine this via some absurd Direct Democracy? Do we allow the "Elites" the the wealthiest among us to determine it? Do we allow government bureaucrats to decide? I suspect the person he wants to decide is the person who he agrees with. THAT is the problem.

    Free speech is only important as far as it allows *unpopular* ideas breathing space.

    Free speech is also a governmental issue - no one in the private space should be required to let people speak on their grounds. However hypocrisy should always be pointed out. You let freak-en Ahmadinejad speak you really don't have a leg to stand on about 'unpopular views' that shouldn't be aired on college campuses.

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    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aimless View Post
    I believe that anecdote is intended to represent, if not the opposite of, then at least a very different view to the one the author endorses. He presents the exchange as an illustration of attitudes from which we've progressed or that have at the very least evolved.
    Exactly. I thought this was a standard "snowflakes on college campuses" piece after that sentence. And then the author went in the completely opposite direction.

    The author's standard for free speech is "does the speech have inherent value", a highly subjective standard that is prone to misuse by those in power. That's a quite ironic position to take for a post-modernist, an ideology that emphasizes attempts by those in power to limit speech.

    He claims free speech should be balanced with the need to allow everyone to "participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community". I have no idea what that means other than no group should be offended by the speech.

    Are those really the standards you'd want for free speech? There's no mention of violence of any kind, probably because the author is defending violence against those voicing "inappropriate" views.

    I actually had discussions here over what would happen if one of the campus groups invited someone like Coulter or Milo. My position was it would be stupid from the point of view of that organization, because these people don't contribute to any coherent political or ideological debate (similar to the point made by the author of this piece), but that these people should nevertheless be allowed to speak because it is not the government's role (we're a public college) to decide what kind of speech has "value." To put it another way, there would be no violation of academic freedom to prevent these people from coming, but there would be from the position of free speech. That means that a private college should feel free to reject them (non-government institutions can't stifle free speech, by definition), but not a public one.
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    I agree in general Loki but I think Coulter brings positions up that aren't politically correct is actually a good thing. One of the best examples is single motherhood and how outcomes for children born out of wedlock are almost always statistically worse. This is an important point that people want to gloss over and the media hates but it is what that should be made. As is the point on wage disparity that when you control for things like years in the workplace, career field etc virtually disappears.

    Coulter is to main stream conservatives as Bill Maher is to mainstream liberals. Both of them same outrageous things, can at times be funny and add to the debate.

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    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lewkowski View Post
    I agree in general Loki but I think Coulter brings positions up that aren't politically correct is actually a good thing. One of the best examples is single motherhood and how outcomes for children born out of wedlock are almost always statistically worse. This is an important point that people want to gloss over and the media hates but it is what that should be made. As is the point on wage disparity that when you control for things like years in the workplace, career field etc virtually disappears.

    Coulter is to main stream conservatives as Bill Maher is to mainstream liberals. Both of them same outrageous things, can at times be funny and add to the debate.
    Debate means providing a well-reasoned argument. Coulter is thoroughly incapable of doing so (even if she wanted to, which she doesn't). There are plenty of conservatives who can make similar arguments without trolling, and all while providing serious evidence.

    I don't think Maher contributes anything either. The purpose of universities is to help students develop analytical skills. Listening to professional trolls doesn't help in that mission. All it does it anger one side, which we know stifles debate. So should public colleges ban them? No. Have they ever contributed to a serious debate? No.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    Debate means providing a well-reasoned argument. Coulter is thoroughly incapable of doing so (even if she wanted to, which she doesn't). There are plenty of conservatives who can make similar arguments without trolling, and all while providing serious evidence.

    I don't think Maher contributes anything either. The purpose of universities is to help students develop analytical skills. Listening to professional trolls doesn't help in that mission. All it does it anger one side, which we know stifles debate. So should public colleges ban them? No. Have they ever contributed to a serious debate? No.
    Coulter cites statistics when she talks about negative outcomes of single motherhood. If you love children you should discourage people from doing things that contribute to poorer life outcomes for them. That's offensive to some people so the facts about it don't get out. She sheds light on it.

    Furthermore you don't seem to understand that an argument cannot rest solely on facts. Facts are CRITICAL to 'winning' the debate or pushing forward your perspective however if it is just dry facts you will have no audience. Humor, interesting stories, personalizing the situation with the audience are all things people do to get and then maintain attention. I've read the Road to Serfdom and I've read Coulter, Hayek is boring as shit even though I pretty much agree with his ideas. How you present information is massively important. The idea that college shouldn't talk about the very real way people discuss and promote ideas is absurd. Academia should prepare people for the real world, and in the real world that is a big deal.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lewkowski View Post
    Furthermore you don't seem to understand that an argument cannot rest solely on facts. Facts are CRITICAL to 'winning' the debate or pushing forward your perspective however if it is just dry facts you will have no audience. Humor, interesting stories, personalizing the situation with the audience are all things people do to get and then maintain attention. I've read the Road to Serfdom and I've read Coulter, Hayek is boring as shit even though I pretty much agree with his ideas. How you present information is massively important. The idea that college shouldn't talk about the very real way people discuss and promote ideas is absurd. Academia should prepare people for the real world, and in the real world that is a big deal.
    You realize you just echoed the argument of quoted article, right?
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    Let sleeping tigers lie Khendraja'aro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    Exactly. I thought this was a standard "snowflakes on college campuses" piece after that sentence. And then the author went in the completely opposite direction.

    The author's standard for free speech is "does the speech have inherent value", a highly subjective standard that is prone to misuse by those in power. That's a quite ironic position to take for a post-modernist, an ideology that emphasizes attempts by those in power to limit speech.

    He claims free speech should be balanced with the need to allow everyone to "participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community". I have no idea what that means other than no group should be offended by the speech.

    Are those really the standards you'd want for free speech? There's no mention of violence of any kind, probably because the author is defending violence against those voicing "inappropriate" views.

    I actually had discussions here over what would happen if one of the campus groups invited someone like Coulter or Milo. My position was it would be stupid from the point of view of that organization, because these people don't contribute to any coherent political or ideological debate (similar to the point made by the author of this piece), but that these people should nevertheless be allowed to speak because it is not the government's role (we're a public college) to decide what kind of speech has "value." To put it another way, there would be no violation of academic freedom to prevent these people from coming, but there would be from the position of free speech. That means that a private college should feel free to reject them (non-government institutions can't stifle free speech, by definition), but not a public one.
    Sorry, dude, but I don't put any value in hate speech. And I don't care too much about the "Free speech trumps all" notion.

    If you want to gas Jews you don't deserve a public podium. Period.

    This "free speech" notion is exactly the reason why the right-wingers are on the rise once again - they're allowed to lie and give voice to atrocities. Nope. Not having it. As soon as as you openly and consciously spout forth hate speech and lies, you lose your right to an open podium.
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    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Khendraja'aro View Post
    Sorry, dude, but I don't put any value in hate speech. And I don't care too much about the "Free speech trumps all" notion.

    If you want to gas Jews you don't deserve a public podium. Period.

    This "free speech" notion is exactly the reason why the right-wingers are on the rise once again - they're allowed to lie and give voice to atrocities. Nope. Not having it. As soon as as you openly and consciously spout forth hate speech and lies, you lose your right to an open podium.
    You use the term "hate speech" far too liberally. Saying something offensive isn't hate speech. Saying something that doesn't take the experiences of certain groups into account isn't hate speech. Making shit up isn't hate speech. And yet that's the kind of speech that people are trying to restrict.

    If anything, the attempt to suppress speech is what leads to the rise of populism, when new politicians can attack the establishment for suppressing traditional views.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lewkowski View Post
    Coulter cites statistics when she talks about negative outcomes of single motherhood. If you love children you should discourage people from doing things that contribute to poorer life outcomes for them. That's offensive to some people so the facts about it don't get out. She sheds light on it.

    Furthermore you don't seem to understand that an argument cannot rest solely on facts. Facts are CRITICAL to 'winning' the debate or pushing forward your perspective however if it is just dry facts you will have no audience. Humor, interesting stories, personalizing the situation with the audience are all things people do to get and then maintain attention. I've read the Road to Serfdom and I've read Coulter, Hayek is boring as shit even though I pretty much agree with his ideas. How you present information is massively important. The idea that college shouldn't talk about the very real way people discuss and promote ideas is absurd. Academia should prepare people for the real world, and in the real world that is a big deal.
    She cites them grossly out of context and conveniently leaves out data that contradicts her neat narrative, something any reasonably informed person would spot. Of course her audience aren't the reasonably informed. As for her arguments being persuasive: to who? She preaches to the converted. Universities aren't the places to learn how to be deceitful; plenty of other places to pick up that skill.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post

    She cites them grossly out of context and conveniently leaves out data that contradicts her neat narrative, something any reasonably informed person would spot. Of course her audience aren't the reasonably informed. As for her arguments being persuasive: to who? She preaches to the converted. Universities aren't the places to learn how to be deceitful; plenty of other places to pick up that skill.
    Oh come on, you know my argument was about making an emotional connection with an audience and not about trying to lie to them. That is an actual key skill in personal and business life and the idea that you should remove everything but facts from a discussion is nonsense.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Khendraja'aro View Post
    Sorry, dude, but I don't put any value in hate speech. And I don't care too much about the "Free speech trumps all" notion.

    If you want to gas Jews you don't deserve a public podium. Period.

    This "free speech" notion is exactly the reason why the right-wingers are on the rise once again - they're allowed to lie and give voice to atrocities. Nope. Not having it. As soon as as you openly and consciously spout forth hate speech and lies, you lose your right to an open podium.
    Who decides what is a lie and what is truth? The government? I'd be wary about giving governments that much power. Especially German governments, honestly.

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    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer...ntroversy.html

    And this is what happens when personal experience trumps analytical rigor in academia. Is this what you want to see more of, Khen?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer...ntroversy.html

    And this is what happens when personal experience trumps analytical rigor in academia. Is this what you want to see more of, Khen?
    Wow... I can hear the REEEEEEEEEE from over here. It is like certain groups jump at the chance to be victimized and outraged by something. The cult of victim hood is alive and well.

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    And it gets worse. At least the university administration was on the right side this time.

    http://www.chronicle.com/article/Aft...SFk3N3A2Q2Fhbw
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    And it gets worse. At least the university administration was on the right side this time.

    http://www.chronicle.com/article/Aft...SFk3N3A2Q2Fhbw
    Pretty screwed up.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    And it gets worse. At least the university administration was on the right side this time.

    http://www.chronicle.com/article/Aft...SFk3N3A2Q2Fhbw
    Northwestern’s student government issued a statement supporting undocumented students and the stance of the protesters. (The student government passed a resolution two months ago asking the university to prioritize its speech-protection policies and resist censorship.).
    Keep on keepin' the beat alive!

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    Between the media's quasi-fetishization of illegal immigration and instances like this, I'm pretty convinced there are virtually no limitations on immigration that would be supported by the activist left. They are anti-border globalists for everything except goods, services and money.

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    Well, if you want them to abandon even that you can always tell them their views on immigration are shared by many libertarians.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dreadnaught View Post
    Between the media's quasi-fetishization of illegal immigration and instances like this, I'm pretty convinced there are virtually no limitations on immigration that would be supported by the activist left. They are anti-border globalists for everything except goods, services and money.
    They have no coherent ideology. They've been taught that anyone with power is oppressive, which means they're inherently sexist, racist, and any other "ist" you want to throw in. According to their logic, even letting the powerful speak reinforces the oppressive power relationship. Which means the only solution is complete censorship of thought and action. The topic itself is irrelevant.
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    Administrator Dreadnaught's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aimless View Post
    Well, if you want them to abandon even that you can always tell them their views on immigration are shared by many libertarians.
    Good point

  29. #29
    All Worship Ragnarök Loki's Avatar
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    Pardon the source; just read what's inside (this time, the university is very much on the wrong side).

    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner...censorship-and
    Hope is the denial of reality

  30. #30
    Stingy DM Veldan Rath's Avatar
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    So now can we admit that there is a growing problem with our universities?
    Brevior saltare cum deformibus viris est vita

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