What in the World: Hate speeches on the beeches

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Oh, how I loathe hate speech. That speech which is hateful; a hatefulness of speech, if you will. I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but I can assure you it is very, very bad. So bad, in fact, that I think any citizen — be they writer, student, or educator — committing this most heinous crime should be permanently excised from society and sent to that most depraved of places — southern Alabama — to live out their hateful lives.  

Before compiling our list of undesirables let us first define our terms as best we can. LUCC recently passed a resolution defining hate speech as “forms of expression (whether words or symbolic actions) that attack or use discriminatory language, or create an atmosphere of intimidation, harassment, or abuse, because of an actual or perceived identity group membership.” Simple enough, right? Let us start on that list. 

First on our Alabama-bound list is the football team. Their obscene musculature, guttural language, and hulking frames make classrooms uncomfortable for me — a willowy, muscle-less specimen — and most certainly fosters an environment of intimidation. But I am a fair individual. Given the LU football team suffers grievous abuse — namely losses and jibes —  on the field, I propose the rest of the Midwest Conference be removed as well. 

Natasha Trethewey’s work must likewise be removed. Her application of racially-degrading language — most notably the use of the N-word — is unacceptable, no matter its purported use as a teaching device. That the administration would allow such an author’s work to be read on campus, and elevated to First Year Studies at that…for shame. So the administration, failing to protect us from harsh language, should be bound for Tuscaloosa on the caboose-a. 

Next, let us exhume and ship south the remains of Howard Zinn, a notable communist and occasional historian. After all, his hateful language towards the US military certainly feels like an attack on my Navy veteran self. How dare he accuse me of taking part in a capitalist and colonial enterprise. As one of only a handful of individuals on campus with a military background, it is necessary I speak out and beg the administration to purge his name from the shelves of our libraries, classrooms, and Moodle pages.  

Putting aside now my sad attempt at satire, I see little good coming from this hate-speech policy and instead all sorts of potential evils. Should I, a conservative, who sees Marxism as anathema to a free and prosperous people, not report a class or Lawrentian article for promoting the supposed merits of that pernicious ideology? After all, I do find it morally repulsive and directly opposed to my classically liberal self-identity. I could cost an excellent faculty member their position, or be the reason for a fellow writer’s censure.  

Another consideration when writing legislation is to assume one’s ideological opponents will eventually grasp the levers of power. A later paragraph of the LUCC resolution states “[LUCC] do act to prohibit an action by the Council…to make any attempt or action to eliminate hate-speech protections for marginalized communities…” Setting aside whether it is in LUCC’s power to establish a resolution indefinitely, a pernicious actor could easily add on to, or clarify, the resolution to restrict discussion of reproductive rights, feminism, and homosexuality as being contradictory to a religious or moral standard. Once we start fiddling with what people can and can’t say, why is there any reason to stop? The less folks can say, the less likely they are to offend a group of individuals. Trappist monks turn out to be the most inclusion-conscious members of society. 

“Pfft!” you might scoff. You, Luther Abel, are a white male born of college-educated parents with all the privileges attendant. What do you know of adversity and legitimate emotions of fearfulness? More than some, and less than others, almost certainly. I was burying men beneath the waves, sitting in the crosshairs of adversarial missiles, and standing guard against terrorists aboard a capital ship while you were skipping band class in middle school. I defy your identity politics. We all have hidden anxieties, we all have suppressed memories, and Lord knows there are things we all would change about ourselves or the world if we could. 

Another rebuttal I can foresee is one of the Lawrence’s Statement on Academic Freedom. My critics might claim that this will protect the classroom while excising all unacceptable expression elsewhere. A fair rejoinder but flawed as the academic freedom policy is not exempted from the hate speech policy, thus the hate speech policy would override the former. These two policies are irreconcilable. 

Group identitarianism is cancer, and trying to protect it with inherently imprecise hate speech regulation will result in pain. Would it not be far better to discuss fundamental disagreements in the cleansing sunlight of debate instead of expelling seemingly odious opinions to fester in the shadows? I think you know my answer, and I’m afraid I know too many of yours. 

Agree? Disagree? Let me know as ever at abell@lawrence.edu. Thank you for reading.