October 3, 2016

ROGER KIMBALL: London Chronicle: Brexit and Free Speech.

I came to England a few days ago in order to participate in a conference in Winchester on the fate of free sphesteheech in the academy, U.S. as well as British editions. We’ll be publishing the papers for that conference in The New Criterion come January, but I can reveal now one thing that struck me about our deliberations. Two years before, we had held a conference on a similar topic (which you can read about here): “Free Speech Under Threat.” To some extent, what transpired in Winchester a few days ago comes under the rubric of what the philosopher Yogi Berra called “déjà-vu all over again.”

But there are differences. In the couple of years since we last considered the issue of free speech, blatant assaults on free speech have grown much more common to the point where they are less scandalous than simply business as usual. People are harassed, shunned, sacked, fined, even jailed in some Western countries for expressing an unpopular opinion.

It is difficult to maintain a perpetual sense of emergency, however, and it’s my sense that many incursions upon free speech are now met more with a weary shrug than the outrage they would have occasioned even a few years back. Novelty is the handmaiden of outrage, and there is, alas, nothing novel about the assaults against free speech on campus today.

One of the most conspicuous strategies to limit free speech on campuses in the United States these last few years has been via the weaponization of victimhood. This is where the demand for “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” and the anxiety over “micro agressions” makes common cause with political correctness to curtail free speech and establish the reign of politically correct orthodoxy.

It’s my impression that this latest gift of American academia has yet to be fully transplanted to England. The toxic rhetoric of “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” and “micro aggressions” is beginning to catch on here and there but has not, so far as I can see, really taken root here.

I’m sure that will change before long. It’s just too potent a weapon to ignore.

What’s interesting about this efflorescence of infantilization is how sinuously it colludes with the imperatives of political correctness to stamp down on free speech and, beyond that, on the very processes of adult thought.

Well, they don’t want voters to be adults. Adults are harder to manage than children.

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