With the two incidents of violence in Berkeley — riots that occurred at a scheduled Milo Yiannopoulos talk and at a pro-Trump rally — and the mob attack at Middlebury College, it’s clear that something alarming is happening on college campuses in this country. While American universities have been bastions of progressivism for some time, the move from activist to combatant is particularly worrisome.
Columnist Megan McArdle has some very good insights. She draws on comments from Greg Lukianoff, the president of FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) who sees this new reliance on violence as a viable alternative to debate as “a new and scary thing”:
Why is it happening? He points to one possible contributing factor. “One thing we really noticed that things had changed was the progression of ‘safety’ into meaning ‘perfectly comfortable,'” he said. Once you’ve defined words as being equivalent to assault, then you’re plausibly justified in using violence to repel the threat.
That’s basically the logic of the editorials that the Berkeley student newspaper published in defense of the rioters. “A peaceful protest was not going to cancel that event,” wrote student Juan Prieto, “just like numerous letters from faculty, staff, Free Speech Movement veterans and even donors did not cancel the event. Only the destruction of glass and shooting of fireworks did that. The so-called ‘violence’ against private property that the media seems so concerned with stopped white supremacy from organizing itself against my community.”
The implicit assumption here is that their protest movement is not merely entitled to be heard, but to win — win with a victory so total that no voice is ever even raised in opposition. And if they cannot win by raising their voices, then they must move on to more aggressive means. This makes sense only if, as Lukianoff says, you define Yiannopoulos’ outrageous statements as equivalent to violence, or worse than violence.
In a pluralistic society where many questions are contested, the alternative to letting your enemies have their say is not that they shut up and you get to live in peace. It’s that both sides arm up. Though the investigation is still ongoing, it appears that one of Yiannopoulos’ fans may have turned up at an event looking forward to mixing it up with protesters (a video allegedly shows him telling someone in the crowd “they have to start it!”). He later shot a 34-year-old anarchist who was there to protest. When people show up at demonstrations looking for trouble, they rarely have difficulty finding it.
McArdle hits the nail on the head.
For people on the right, there’s even more to keep in mind. Any violence — like a fan of someone like Milo shooting an opponent — will be used to justify more violence from the Left.
Make sure you are in a situation of self-defense and have no other option. As the Left gets violent, knowing the laws in your state is part of your self-defense. Reject anyone on your political side who seems to be embracing violence as quickly as you’d reject the violent Leftist.
Make sure you’re out there standing up for the Rule of Law.