Guest Commentary: Free Speech for Whom?

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by Connor Gorman

As many of you are likely aware, Milo Yiannopoulos is currently set to speak at UC Davis (after being invited by the Davis College Republicans) on Jan. 13.  One common narrative that has been put forward, including by the authors of articles (or possibly “columns,” lest I upset Bob Dunning) in The Davis Vanguard and The Davis Enterprise, is that no matter how we may feel about Milo’s beliefs and rhetoric, “free speech” means we must accept his “right” to this platform.

On its surface this line of reasoning seems logical and I certainly understand being reluctant to support the administration banning him on their own because of how much power they have and how undemocratic they are.  However, students and workers using collective action to force a cancellation is a different story, or as another UC Davis graduate student, B.B. Buchanan, put it: “We are not the government, we are the people. Milo Yiannopoulos should be free from government repression, that’s why it’s up to people and communities across the U.S. to rise up and deny white supremacists and fascists access to public platforms through which they can promote violence.”

However, when examined further it becomes clear that this notion of “free speech” overlooks a variety of important factors related to the principle of free speech (as opposed to the legal definition which isn’t really the issue here) including power dynamics and whose speech is really protected (and whose isn’t).  Before going any further it needs to be stated that I’m neither the first person to come up with nor the first one to express these ideas and instead, I’m just rephrasing them here in the context of this most recent controversy.  Now onto the primary arguments.

First off, it must be acknowledged that almost nobody would support any and all speakers.  For instance, I doubt someone who supported ISIL or denied the Holocaust would be given such a platform so readily.

There is always a line and the question then becomes where to draw it (and who has the authority to do so) as opposed to whether or not it should exist, regardless of how many (or few) people realize this.  Just because your standard coincides with that of the larger society and absolves you from having to think critically about what exactly free speech means most of the time doesn’t change the fact that you draw the line somewhere.

Building off of the previous point, there’s also the question of who gets these speaking platforms to begin with.  Those who hold the most privilege and power have a much easier time expressing their beliefs publicly than those at the margins.  In turn, these privileged views (which uphold systems of oppression and are merely less overt forms of what Milo preaches) receive far more attention than the perspectives of those with relatively little power and form the dominant narrative within our society.

This disproportionate allocation of speaking time and publicity constitutes an effective censorship of certain ideas and experiences but our society erases and ignores such violations of the broad principle of “free speech” because they serve the interests of those at the top.

In addition to this, we also need to understand the harm that people like Milo cause through their speech.  For one, there’s the threat that his rhetoric will incite certain individuals to directly assault and harass others, especially people from vulnerable groups.

This is especially pertinent given the increase in hate crimes since the election and the blatantly bigoted nature of some of the things Milo and his followers have been known to advocate.  Then there’s the fact that emboldening those who hold and promote such oppressive ideas creates an even more hostile environment in a place (UC Davis in particular and the city of Davis more generally) that’s supposed to be safe and welcoming for everyone (which has never actually been the case, but that’s a different discussion) because as B.B. points out, for those on the margins the words of people like Milo “are all too familiar — they aren’t speaking anything new, but are instead reproducing words hurled at us while we’ve been beaten, deported, assaulted, and denied livelihoods. … When we say that these words, and these speakers, are dangerous, we don’t mean ideologically or in the abstract. … We’re talking about our lives.”

We need to show people like Milo that we won’t accept or normalize their dehumanizing beliefs.

Finally, Milo’s style is far worse than a lot of other speakers even when their views are similar.  For instance, he’s targeted specific students and faculty members for harassment on multiple occasions.  The most infamous example of this thus far is probably that of him mocking a trans student at UW Milwaukee.

There’s a difference between being uncomfortable and being unsafe. Being made to feel uncomfortable by having one’s beliefs challenged is necessary and good but being made to feel unsafe by having one’s existence challenged is not.  What speech should be allowed and in what context is an important conversation to have but the starting point can’t be a false appeal to an absolute notion of free speech that’s never really applied.

Furthermore, Milo’s speech is clearly dangerous and we are under no obligation to give him an official platform when his violent views already have numerous platforms while the voices of more marginalized groups and individuals do not.

Connor Gorman is a fourth year graduate student in physics at UC Davis and a head steward in the Davis chapter of UAW Local 2865, the union that represents Academic Student Employees across the UC system.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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11 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Free Speech for Whom?”

  1. Eric Gelber

     I certainly understand being reluctant to support the administration banning him on their own because of how much power they have and how undemocratic they are.  

    No. I’m reluctant to have the administration ban him because a governmental prohibition on speech based on content would violate the First Amendment. I’m unclear as to how, exactly, the denial of a platform you propose would be accomplished and by whom.

    1. Jaroslaw Waszczuk

      The UC Davis  administration can ban Milo and Milo  or his host can’t do much about . If  Milo or his host will sue  the UC Davis administrators than the First Amendment’s  California law  would be used against him and against his host in the court of law .  Maybe he will win the lawsuit but lawsuit will block him to speak in the  UC campuses for many many  years . Apparently this event is  not about the  First Amendment and free speech for the UC Davis administration but about  money .

      1. Howard P

        You raise what might well be an interesting point… perhaps the person in question was invited by the YR to provide a provocation to ‘prove’ that “conservative” voices are ‘silenced’… they might be loving the controversy, and hope the speaker will be banned, to reap political hay.

        1. Jaroslaw Waszczuk

          Howard

          YR club probably will get chunk of  money from the event . YR club  does not care who is Milo and what  his stupid  hateful speeches. Milo advertising himself with words ” I am Milo Yiannopoulos, the Dangerous Faggot. Come on. Who could have any benefit  for any other reason than money  to invite such dirt bag from the foreigner  country to listen  his garbage.  Where is the LBGT community from  the UC Davis ?  If you would work in UC Davis and would say stuff like him than you would not be protected by the UC Davis Principles of Community and the First Amendment. You will be accused of the hate crime and reported to UC Davis police  . This is a naked true .

        2. Howard P

          Jerry… as I understand it from previous posts/info, the event is free, but ‘donations accepted’ … that type of event doesn’t generate a lot of $ on a college campus…

        3. Jaroslaw Waszczuk

          Howard

          Nothing is free . Somebody is paying expenses and such event is costly . If it is free than this is means that the university is paying for everything and Milo is contributing money to YR club for invitation .  This Yolo Leaks stuff but Yolo Leaks is disabled by Yolo Leaks  founder .

  2. Sam Bivins

    Furthermore, Milo’s speech is clearly dangerous and we are under no obligation to give him an official platform when his violent views already have numerous platforms while the voices of more marginalized groups and individuals do not.

    Milo Yiannopoulos is a queer foreigner with a number of taboo fetishes–all generally thought of as “marginalized” identities in this country. The widespread negative reaction to his views shows that his position as a speaker is hardly as privileged as this author would have us believe. After cutting through the academic jargon about “power dynamics” and the general hysteria the author has about having him speak, I’m left with the sense that the author is only skeptical about free speech in situations where he doesn’t care for the speaker’s politics or style.

    I don’t care for Yiannopoulos’ politics and style, either.  But I’m reluctant to say that we have to draw any lines on political speech in governmentally controlled forums other than forbidding the incitement of imminent violence. The conversation this author ought to be having isn’t about “[w]hat speech should be allowed and in what context,” or who ought to have the privilege of expressing their opinions in a particular context. The conversation should be about why his ideas are wrong.  That conversation is a lot easier to have–and a lot more persuasive–if the man is allowed to speak.

  3. Tia Will

    Welcome Connor,

    I appreciate your sharing your point of view. I had given consideration to the free speech issue as it applies to MY, to the possible motivations of the inviting Young Republicans and to the motivations of those who oppose his speaking on campus as well as to the responsibility of the administration.

    What I had not yet paid much attention to is the right of the Young Republicans to assemble and hear a speaker of their choice as long as he stays within the bounds of legal speech. As to motivation, I also gained some insight from one of my partner’s sons who recently graduated from the University of Colorado. It appears that a number of his gym acquaintances were using the election results as a means of “rubbing in” the result not because they cared about the political or social issues but rather because they simply enjoyed as he put it, “sticking it to the Hillary supporters”. I think that some of us may be underestimating the shear juvenile desire to give the other side a verbal “poke in the eye”.

    This has led me to the conclusion that regardless of how reprehensible we may find his persona and his previous messages, the best course of action would be to allow MY to speak thus avoiding any charge of censorship, but then to rationally rebut any repugnant ideas he espouses.

     

  4. Tia Will

    Jerry

    “Difficulty with ” reading comprehension is a somewhat subjective interpretation. All I can say is that I had no difficulty finishing high school with honors, double majored in anthropology and political science both of which require extensive reading and writing and managed to get through all of the reading required for medical school and throughout my career.

    Mark does not seem to make a distinction between reading comprehension and drawing inferences with which he may not agree. I leave it to each poster to decide whether or not they think this is a comprehension problem.

     

     

    1. Jaroslaw Waszczuk

      Tia

      I  admire you for  your life achievement , Don’t take me wrong . Even I don’t know you I believe that you are a  good person. I am retired worker and I am very straight forward person . Your double majored in anthropology and in  political science caused that your brain  processor is jammed by viruses and bugs and needs to be reboot . Dilution is  not a solution of the problems  my Dear Tia .  You are free to write what  ever you want and not me but Mark West asked  why do you have such difficulty with reading comprehension? I just asked for confirmation because he had a valid point taking into consideration your notorious avoidance to address properly the discussed subject . The political science degree is taking toll on you and David .

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