I was reading an LA Times article about how both sides of the political spectrum were upset. A balanced article, I thought? I must read this.
And that’s when I read the part that frustrated me.
Now, just to be clear, I’ve never been a big fan of the Berkeley campus. The atmosphere is extremely liberal, and often just too liberal for the good of education, IMHO. A few years ago, they had a guy living in the trees next to the football stadium as a protest that Cal was going to build a new stadium and cut down those trees. A tree hugger living on campus, halting construction – for months – because he had “a right to protest.”
I agree with that right, but I think such a right expires after the legal process concludes that construction is justified and can commence. I’m a lover of trees myself. But enforcing my will over the will of others because I don’t like a sport that’s receiving needed capital investment? Not so much.
A few days ago, the campus erupted because a student organization of Republicans had booked an appearance by a writer for the Breitbart News, Milo Yiannopoulos. This journalist toured other campuses recently, and definitely spews an alt-right stew of anti-feminism (“a cancer”), anti-Black Lives Matter (“divisive”) and much, much more. He is, without a doubt, a provocateur. He was even banned by Twitter last year when he got into a contretemps over his review of the latest “Ghostbusters” movie, and his thoughts inspired harassment of one of the stars. He supported that harassment at first, then was banned, then withdrew his support for the actual harassment.
He’s still banned by Twitter … which he’s apparently OK with. He said it made him famous.
So this is not a guy that I’d like to share a meal with. I certainly wouldn’t cross the street to hear him give a speech. But, free speech is just that: free speech. The Berkley administration worked with their student group so that the speech could happen, and apparently brought in some extra security.
Just not enough.
Over 100 anarchists wearing black clothing and using “paramilitary tactics” overwhelmed the security element. Windows were smashed, a fire was started … and the campus administration canceled the speech by Yiannopoulos due to the violent atmosphere. That prompted President Trump to react on Twitter, and threaten Cal with the loss of federal funding:
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
- President Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), February 2, 2017
That, of course, got the Cal faculty in an uproar, as a substantial part of the University’s budget comes from the federal government. The Times covered that uproar, including this statement that illustrates part of the problem, I believe:
Stuart Russell, a computer scientist at UC Berkeley and founding director of the Center for Human-Compatible AI, argued that Trump was unfairly targeting the campus since outsiders may have committed the violence. He said Berkeley’s federally funded research was critically important to U.S. industries and national defense.
“For Trump to threaten … our funding in a completely extrajudicial and extralegal way [because of things] that he doesn’t like, seems like the act of a dictator,” he said.
Mr. Russell is throwing language around much too loosely for my taste (“extrajudicial,” indeed). And by blaming Trump’s not liking the situation instead of blaming the violence on campus as the root problem, Mr. Russell shows he’s not willing to support free speech.
I mean, who does like a violent outbreak on a university campus? Anytime, anywhere? If taking exception to the violence as well as disliking the suppression of free speech that resulted is the act of a dictator, then we have a problem in this country.
And we do.
A “dictator” defending the right to free speech is wrong? Violence on campus is OK if it suppresses opinions that some don’t like?
Bottom line for me is that Milo Yiannopoulos has some provocative opinions, and he’s not afraid to use them. I disagree – profoundly disagree – with many of his public statements. However, he has a right to those opinions, of course, and has the right to speak about them (that is what free speech is). Some of those on the Berkeley campus believes he has no right to express his opinions in any place at any time.
That is a sobering statement from parts of a university community that takes pride in its place as a seminal force in our country’s free speech movement over the last several decades.