Monday, December 21, 2015

Immunity to Ideas and Information

Berlin, Germany, 1971: I stood looking at the wall, its ugly appearance surpassed by an even uglier purpose. It stood four meters (13 feet) high, topped in places by razor wire. However Russian and East German authorities were replacing the razor wire with smooth concrete pipe, large enough in diameter to offer no hand or foot holds. Razor wire is no deterrent to people fleeing machine gun bullets.

The infamous Berlin wall was built to keep people in and ideas out. (From Chapter 26 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom?) That is a terrible, tyrannical objective. Not only does it hold in captivity people denied information, it blocks progress as those people are deprived of the information necessary to advance everything from freedom to technology. The fall of the wall was a cause for celebration as East Germans once again had access to a variety of ideas, reasoning, and evidence. Surely nobody today would want to again put in place such a horrible blockade, would they? Don't be too sure.

Today not only are people creating barriers to information and ideas, but the people erecting those barriers are the very same people being deprived of information! On campuses across the country a minority of “students” demands “safe spaces” where certain viewpoints are prohibited. They demand “trigger warnings” so they can leave class lest they be exposed to diverse ideas. While the East Berlin captives sought information from the West (with the help of some in the west who put up informational billboards visible over the wall), these new captives not only fail to seek a variety of information, they demand that no such information be available. The captives are their own jailers – and enthusiastic jailers at that.

This self-censorship and censorship of faculty goes so far as to try to prohibit law schools teaching rape law! Harvard law professor Jeannie Suk described this in a New Yorker article a year ago.
Let us be clear, rape is a serious offense and we should do all we can to stop that crime and punish the rapists. It is for that very reason that law schools must teach the subject. Failure to do so constitutes dereliction of duty, and pressure not to teach rape law gives aid and comfort to the rapists.

Nor is rape the only subject some want to declare off limits. FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education documents and fights against many campus speech codes. Often those speech codes block presentation of unpopular political views. If such views are prohibited, we will be right back to authorities dictating what we can think and discuss. And the “graduates” of institutions with such restrictions will be indoctrinated but not educated.

We must fight those campus restrictions. More on that, probably next time.

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