Free Speech Advocates Are Often Hypocrites. This Doesn’t Make the Cause Less Important.
Censorship has been getting more prevalent in the sciences, and it’s driven heavily by scientists themselves. Those are the core findings in a new paper for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, led by behavioral scientist Cory Clark and co-authored by myself and colleagues from several disciplines. We found that the censorship—and self-censorship—is typically motivated by pro-social concerns, such as curbing misinformation or preventing harm to vulnerable populations.
Many on the left view concerns about free speech and viewpoint diversity as bad-faith attempts by privileged people to protect their privilege. According to this line of critique, straight white men were fine with exclusion and censorship until it started to affect people like themselves. Now that they find themselves on the receiving end of the stick, they’re suddenly very righteous about open inquiry—at least insofar as it benefits them. Most still have little to say when leftists, anti-racists, queer scholars, and feminists find their freedoms under assault (as they regularly do). Conservatives who condemn DEI-based political litmus tests for hiring and promotion are often comfortable with Fox News witch-hunts against left-leaning professors or legislation that bans the teaching of views they dislike.
Let’s grant that this happens. Many people are inconsistent in their support for open inquiry: They’re not particularly concerned when views they oppose are censored but grow highly engaged when people and perspectives they support face suppression.
Even if people aren’t concerned about a problem until it affects them, it’s still a problem when they are, eventually, affected. The appropriate response to selective concern in one direction isn’t selective concern in the other direction. That’s a recipe for keeping anyone from enjoying a free atmosphere.
More broadly, it’s an error to understand the interests of historically disadvantaged and historically dominant groups to be diametrically opposed. When people from historically privileged groups are facing censorship, that doesn’t mean people in historically marginalized groups are actually being empowered.
Indeed, although censorial tendencies are frequently justified by the desire to protect vulnerable and underrepresented populations from offensive or hateful speech, speech restrictions generally end up enhancing the position of the already powerful at the expense of the genuinely marginalized and disadvantaged.
Hate speech laws, for instance, have consistently been turned by ruling parties against their opponents. They have regularly been used to justify surveillance and censorship of dissidents and advocates for civil rights and civil liberties—not just in the U.S., but around the world. Many free speech protections currently under assault from the right and the left were established in the 1960s to protect civil rights activism from censorship campaigns.
In the contemporary period, an analysis looking at firings since 2015 found that a majority of faculty dismissed for political speech have been aligned with the left. Female and minority faculty tend to be especially vulnerable to being fired for political speech, because they are significantly less likely to be tenured
Article from Reason.com
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