Although LSU properly remained neutral over a controversial speakers who recently visited the university, reactions by some on campus point to an iron-fisted totalitarian spirit in a touchy-feely glove.
Sponsored by a student organization, Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopolous recently spoke at the LSU Union Theatre. The appearance, in which he flouted the usual decorums of speech, was his way to protest attempts on many campuses to limit free discourse. LSU political scientist Benjamin Acosta embraced the mood of the evening while introducing Yiannopolous, using a play on a profane word to ridicule champions of cultural liberalism.
Calling Louisiana “America’s fattest state,” Yiannopolous, occasionally using profanity, argued for shaming obese individuals into changing their behavior, pointing out that their condition usually makes their lives shorter and more miserable and shifts higher medical costs to the public. He spoke of research that shows social pressure can change destructive eating habits. He also criticized leftist dogma that proclaims obesity socially acceptable and joked about the group Black Lives Matter.
The impending visit prompted complaints that Yiannopoulos would make some people feel “uncomfortable,” suggesting that he should not speak. What he and Acosta did say drew the ire of Quint Forgey, editor of the student newspaper The Daily Reveille. Forgey wrote that the introduction and performance begged the question, “How hateful must a performer’s rhetoric be for the University to at least speak out against it?” A subsequent letter to the editor by Acosta’s departmental colleague, Joshua Potter, criticized Acosta for “mean speech” that fails to consider the “consequences of our words on the well-being of others.”
Both commentaries seemed to mistakenly imagine a constitutional right not to be offended — and a stubborn insistence that they get to define “hateful” and “mean.” This peculiar conceit lies at the heart of every attempt, ranging from Josef Stalin to Adolf Hitler, to strangle ideas that subvert an ideological world view.
That kind of thinking leads to absurdities such as the Southern Law Poverty Center designating some organizations “hate groups” not on any rational basis, but apparently because the ostensible offenders don't share the SLPC's ideology. This mindset also leads to the ridiculous notion of “hate crimes,” where extra punishment comes to miscreants if they have “bad” thoughts that motivated their misdeeds. Of course, the harm committed is just as bad regardless of the motive, and research indicates no extra deterrent effect comes from the additional penalty.
As long as speech, including that which helps clarify useful distinctions about public policy choices, doesn't directly incite physical violence or threaten lives, it should be permitted. Individuals do not have the luxury to impose their beliefs about what constitutes harmful speech or to use that as justification for silencing debate, no matter whose feelings get hurt. Instead, critics should respond to what they perceive as objectionable speech with more speech, offering counterarguments to those they oppose.
What's more, a public, taxpayer-supported institution like LSU, especially given its status as a university, should not denounce nonviolent speech. LSU’s statement about the event — that it supports the use of facilities for approved organizations to hold events without endorsing or opposing the speech that results — is laudable. That policy should help prevent the slippery slope some segments of the campus wish to risk traveling toward tyranny.
The editor of LSU's student newspaper The Daily Reveille called on administrators to denounc…