By David Keptsi
An uneasy calm has settled over the university now that “Students for Change” is (hopefully) defunct and its plan to turn Binghamton University into an oppressive (yet diverse, woo!) police state is gone. The peace is clearly a calm before the storm, “eye of the hurricane” sort of effect though. Any day now, another idealistic yet somehow still accidently fascist in nature student group will come running in with yet another list of completely unreasonable demands hoping to shake up the white-cis-male power structure. And when this poorly organized group shows up once again to plague the classrooms and haunt the dreams of the level-headed and open-minded, where will I be? Laughing at this group of assholes and lamenting the culture that brought about its existence. This culture is one of oversensitivity and overt political correctness that numbs the senses and dulls the mind. The culture prevents exposure to new experiences and different views. People now fear the risk of being offended and experiencing some sort of “mental anguish” which would frankly be insulting to those actually suffering from PTSD.
The attitude of protesting anything that might offend somebody is a major reason comedians such as Chris Rock and Bill Maher (popular mainstays for the liberal audience) no longer perform at college campuses. Entertainment aside, appearance embargoes have also happened to speakers that colleges have invited to speak at commencements and other university events. Many times, students deem speakers “too conservative.” The students protest against the speaker and force him or her to back out of his or her planned dialogue. The issue here should be apparent. Barack Obama himself said, “The purpose of college is not just … to transmit skills. It’s also to widen your horizons, to make you a better citizen, to help you to evaluate information, to help you make your way through the world, to help you be more creative.” So what happens when you skip out on a speech because you were too sensitive to listen to the speaker? Quite simply, you miss out. You narrow the scope of your knowledge, and you miss a chance to really put your own moral theory to the test. Everyone has opinions on how the world should work. Each student has moral frameworks that she adheres to. The way in which these frameworks develop is by butting heads against others. By debating the issues you hold dear to you, rather than avoiding conflict of opinion altogether, you can grow your own beliefs. The worst case scenario in this situation would actually be winning the debate at hand, as losing would hopefully shatter your worldview and make you grow as a person.
The students who protest the reading of “Huckleberry Finn” due to its use of racial expletives are essentially the same as those students at Duke University who protested reading “Fun Home” due to its homosexual themes. This problem clearly isn’t restricted to any certain part of the political spectrum. An aura of entitlement seems to pervade both sides, dousing any hopes of fair political discourse. If your opinions weren’t challenged in a college environment, then the university you attend likely isn’t the finest source of education. Either that or you attend the University of Pyongyang, North Korea, in which case I commend you on escaping the work camps long enough to somehow get your hands on a copy of this article.
On a personal note, I recently experienced a tragedy of overt political correctness myself. I was in a basic intro-level philosophy class as the professor was repeating the same bullshit argument against eating meat and how animals are equal in moral worth to humans that you see in every philosophy class. (Don’t fight me on this vegans, you’ll probably outlive me anyway). The professor was arguing against the point that rationality makes humans superior, claiming that by extension the severely retarded would have to have less rights if that theory was true. The issue at hand happened when a girl in class raised her hand and told the professor to stop using the “R-word” as it might trigger somebody in class. The professor responded very well to her qualm, renewing my hope in the system of higher education. “Retarded is a clinical term, created to describe people of such levels of mental impairment. The negative connotation associated with the word was created by society when they used it in derogatory way. If the current term used to describe such people is “mentally handicapped” then even if the word retarded is banned or goes away, a new negative connotation will be attached to the phrase “mentally handicapped.”
This succinct explanation largely describes the issues of campaigns to end offensive words or phrases in the first place. The campaigns focus on the speech itself instead of the attitude behind the speech. I fully support educating the public and spreading a message against the discrimination of those with mental handicaps, but limiting one’s first amendment rights to do so is both ineffective and outright oppressive. And to the girl who stopped class and cut-off my learning to make your ridiculous point, I’d simply like to quote Voltaire (who I’m pretty sure we don’t cover in class) and say “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”