Thursday, March 31, 2011

New Threats to Freedom Essay Contest: In response to Greg Lukianoff on campus censorship

George Lukianoff argues that the university campus is becoming increasingly censored. This is disturbing since universities ought to be the haven of free thought. Instead of silencing those who disagree, people ought to debate. This is an important issue today, which I will address by highlighting the denial of free speech at the highest level of government, and specifically the loss of critical discourse in the Obama administration.   
In the discussion of the treatment of free speech by the administration I will discuss one specific incident. In summer 2010, Bradley Manning was arrested for leaking documents detailing the Afghanistan war. Following his arrest, Manning was subjected to psychological abuse. Amnesty International described his treatment as “unnecessarily harsh and punitive.” In addition, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley quipped that the way Manning was being treated was “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid." He suddenly resigned. Clearly his resignation had to do with his comments on the Manning issue. Because of the language of his resignation statement it is generally accepted that he was fired over the issue by order of the Administration. There was no debate, and there was no informative statement given on the matter. It constituted a clear abridgement of free speech.
            The Administration’s actions can be defended in multiple ways, but not without forsaking the value of free speech. It may be that Crowley genuinely resigned, but this is highly unlikely. A look Obama’s fierce persecution of whistle blowers, his unhelpful comment on the issue, and his former actions makes it extremely improbable. The statement from Crowley mentions he resigned because of “the impact of my remarks.” It is then quite evident that Crowley’s decision was influenced by someone else. Sometimes assaults on free speech are defended because the speech was factual, fallacious, or hateful. If Crowley’s comment was full of errors, then the Administration should have corrected these errors. Surely there was nothing hateful in Crowley’s words. Even if there was, it is hard to see why he need resign—instead of clarifying, apologizing, or even justifying his statement. Yet unfortunately, people resign over incidents of “hate speech” often. What Noam Chomsky said is very useful in this regard: “If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.” So the only option left to justify Crowley’s firing is that he and the Administration did not agree. Yet this is no reason to force someone to resign. The administration ought to be open to internal critique. Clearly the structure of a civil society, which enters into reasonable discourse, should be practiced in the government itself.
            Thus, the campus is not the only place where opinions are being censored. As citizens we ought to criticize this blatant abdication of our rights. As Voltaire said, “Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.” It is quintessential that free speech be sustained in all areas of life; otherwise the quality of our reasonable discourse will severely fall.

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