Psychology Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett had a question for New York Times readers on Sunday, and you can probably already imagine what her answer was, given the outlet. “When is Speech Violence?” Barrett asked, and her answer was that it is essentially a form of violence when words have a deteriorating effect on a person’s health and their way of life. As you might have guessed, she concludes that such effects are manifest in the speeches given by controversial conservative speakers – many of whom have been banned from college campuses in recent months.
“That’s why it’s reasonable, scientifically speaking, not to allow a provocateur and hatemonger like Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at your school,” she writes. “He is part of something noxious, a campaign of abuse. There is nothing to be gained from debating him, for debate is not what he is offering.”
Scientifically speaking! Which means that Barrett searched high and low to find studies that prove that speech can have an effect on the mental and physical health of minorities, perhaps overlooking that this can only be true when said minorities ALLOW it to have such an effect. And certainly overlooking the fact that there is no study on the planet that proves that the specific speeches of Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter have ever shortened the lives of any of their listeners. Although this may become true in time – not because of their words, but because the country is waiting breathlessly for movements like AntiFa to move past lighting campuses on fire and onto simply shooting those with whom they disagree. The ones who die are unlikely to be the fragile minorities Barrett is so desperate to protect, of course.
But this is an argument that’s growing more and more common on the left. It lies at the core of their most ridiculous needs: Safe spaces, trigger warnings, police alerts that ignore the race of the perpetrator, and so on. They equate speech with violence, which gives them a special vehicle with which they can navigate around that pesky First Amendment and use censorship as a weapon. And in all of this, of course, they are gladly willing to ignore the very real and very loud calls for violence on the left. If they give them any attention at all, they treat them as bafflingly rare exceptions to the rule – miscreants barely worth noticing.
Eventually, this will move beyond campus policies and into the halls of Congress and into the realm of the Supreme Court. At that point, our country will have to decide if we would rather put up with a bit of “abusive” speech in the name of freedom or if we would rather enact hate speech codes, the likes of which are curtailing right-wing rhetoric in Europe and Canada.
Let’s hope we make the right choice, because there won’t come a second chance.