Zeitgeist

How the Free Speech Movement Stopped Moving

October 13, 2014


This month marks 50 years since Mario Savio stood atop a police car at UC Berkeley and gave an impassioned speech to throngs of young pampered radicals that launched what is now preserved in amber and lionized as the “€œFree Speech Movement.”€ Barefoot and presumably smelly, Savio famously orated something about the “€œmachine”€”€”apparently it was “€œodious”€”€”and how you had to place your body in the machine’s gears to stop it from working.

And in a sense, it worked. But more precisely, the machine only shifted gears. The net result a half-century later on college campuses nationwide is that you are now permitted to say “€œfuck”€ but no longer allowed to say “€œnigger.”€

In an email forwarded to Berkeley’s faculty, staff, and students early in September of this year, school chancellor Nicholas Dirks acknowledged the Free Speech Movement’s Golden Anniversary, but with reservations:

…the commitment to free speech and expression can lead to division and divisiveness that undermine a community’s foundation. … Our capacity to maintain that delicate balance between communal interests and free expression…will be tested anew. Specifically, we can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected in doing so, and this in turn requires that people treat each other with civility.

Cutting through that verbal wall of bullshit, Dirks appears to be saying that free speech ends where the “€œcommunity”€ begins. He also seems to imply that one person’s right to feel “€œsafe and respected”€ may trump another’s right to say what’s on their mind.

“€œThe end result of the Free Speech Movement has been to create a generation of graduates whose minds are bolted shut and paved over with cement.”€

It is no coincidence that one of the prime movers and shakers of the original Free Speech Movement was Bettina Aptheker, the daughter of dedicated Stalinists and a woman who, despite all the lip service she paid to “€œfree speech,”€ openly supported thought-squashing socialist regimes throughout the 1960s, the sort of tyrannical state entities that would rip your tongue out of your throat for making the merest bird squeak of dissent. Aptheker is now a professor of feminist studies at UC Santa Cruz and recently wrote this in a Berkeley alumni magazine:

On the occasion of this 50th anniversary of the FSM…it is worth pausing for a moment to consider the ways in which gender, race, class, and sexuality may effect [sic] one’s access to freedom of speech. Although the First Amendment embraces a universal ideal in its wording, it was written by white, propertied men in the 18th century….

Lady, if I was against free speech, I”€™d tell you to shut the hell up right now. But I”€™ll let you prattle onward and downward, because you”€™re only proving my point.

What a despicable group of tyrants the freewheeling leftists of the early 1960s have become. Those who rose up against the “€œmachine”€ back then are still working from the old operator’s manual. Miraculously, they still manage to convince themselves that they have not become the machine against which they once railed. And somewhere along the line they concocted the screwball idea of “€œhate speech”€”€”I doubt such a concept so much as existed in 1964″€”and began fallaciously arguing that it was a fundamentally different thing from free speech. They spun a magical illusory world where “€œcivil rights”€ and “€œcivil liberties”€ are somehow at odds with one another. They even convinced untold numbers of otherwise intelligent people that if you stopped calling blacks dirty names, those benighted and oppressed descendants of slaves would perform better academically.

They still whine about McCarthyism, which would be fine if they were able to point to a single Nazi screenwriter currently employed in Hollywood. In their childish quest to avoid creating a “€œhostile environment,”€ they”€™ve engineered an environment that is brutally hostile to the merest wisp of dissent. They have engineered a coddled, over-medicated world where mild disapproval of anything is “€œhate speech.”€ In the service of “€œsensitivity,”€ they have fashioned a modern educational system that is an uninterrupted blood libel against white males. They have achieved ethnic, gender, and sexual diversity”€”at the almost complete expense of ideological diversity. It is a world where feelings overrule ideas at every turn. Ideas”€”at least ones that diverge a millimeter from official indoctrination”€”are viewed as threats.

The mind of a censor is a dark and frightened space. Censors are motivated not by a certainty that their targets are wrong but a fear that they may be right. The end result of the Free Speech Movement has been to create a generation of graduates whose minds are bolted shut and paved over with cement.

In the interest of delusional and unquantifiable intangibles such as “€œequality”€ and “€œsocial justice,”€ the totalitarian wolves in free-speech clothing who arose in Berkeley fifty years ago have created a suffocating environment that is more hostile to the free exchange of ideas than perhaps at any time in American history.

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