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Friday Ephemera

Our Brightest Minds

More psychodrama on campus:

Only hours after students installed a “Free Speech Wall” at Carleton University to prove that campus free speech was alive and well, it was torn down by an activist who claimed the wall was an “act of violence” against the gay community. “What we wanted to promote was competition of ideas, rather than ‘if I disagree with you I’ve got to censor you,’” said Ian CoKehyeng, founder of Carleton Students for Liberty, the creators of the wall. Installed on Monday in the Unicentre Galleria, one of campus’ most high-traffic areas, the wall was really more of a 1.2 x 1.8 metre wooden plank wrapped in paper and equipped with felt markers. By Tuesday morning the wall was gone, destroyed in an act of “forceful resistance” by seventh-year human rights student Arun Smith.

Yes, I know. Forceful resistance. Against free speech. By a human rights student.

A human rights student who last year promised to ensure “every voice is empowered and every student’s voice is heard.”

Well, maybe not every voice. It seems there’ll be some pre-emptive and unilateral vetting.

But wait, there’s more.

“In organising the ‘free speech wall,’ the Students for Liberty have forgotten that liberty requires liberation, and this liberation is prevented by providing space … for the expression of hate,” wrote Smith in a 600-word Facebook post in which he identified himself as an anti-homophobia campaigner. Calling the area around the wall a “war zone,” he intimated that it was “but another in a series of acts of violence” against gay rights. In a Tuesday afternoon Twitter exchange with a CBC reporter, Mr Smith dubbed free speech an “illusory concept” and declared that “not every opinion is valid, nor deserving of expression.” 

The punchline cometh. 

In truth, the wall’s only overt references to sexual orientation were pro-gay, such as “QUEERS ARE AWESOME,” “Gay is OK” and “I [Heart] Queers.” The only comment that verged into anti-gay territory was a scrawl reading “traditional marriage is awesome.”

Some kinds of stupid have to be educated into the kids.

Update, via the comments: 

So far as I can see, and despite his extensive commentary on the subject, Arun Smith still hasn’t specified any actual remark that offended him sufficiently to vandalise the wall then boast about it online. However, he does tell us that, “breaking down barriers requires anti-oppressive discourse,” which is “antithetical to ‘free speech’.” Expectations of free speech are, he informs us, “structurally oppressive.” Quizzed on his presumed entitlement to violence, Mr Smith replies, “You forget that writing can be violence. Resistance to violence is not violence.” And so he, being heroic, must resist and intervene to save some (again unspecified and exquisitely precious) potential victim. In this case, presumably, he’s saving them from the psychological hazard of passing by the statement “traditional marriage is awesome.” Four words that would obviously shatter the self-esteem of any vulnerable student already on the verge of weeping. Such are the dramas to be enacted in the modern Canadian university, one of the most indulgent and cossetting environments in the history of the world.

In fact, existing particulars don’t appear to trouble Mr Smith, for whom abstractions and potentials are much more congenial, and whose ostensible grievance is that someone is even “providing space… for the expression of hate.” To permit an area for free speech, even one the size of an average desk, is, we learn, “offensive, ill-considered and dangerous,” especially “during our Pride Week, where our communities are supposed to be able to seek liberation and celebrate our diversity.” In a lengthy, self-flattering Facebook screed Mr Smith objects to the existence of a space in which “there is potential for triggering, the invalidation or questioning of the identities of others, and/or the expression of hatred.” (The arbiters of what constitutes triggering, invalidation and hatred – sorry, potential triggering, invalidation and hatred - are of course Mr Smith and those who think like him.) Questioning a person’s “identity” is impermissible too. And the mere potential for such things is apparently so heinous, so vicious, it’s a basis for vandalism. And subsequently, self-congratulation.

Regardless of its content, the free speech wall is, we’re told, “an act of violence.” A “microaggression.” And so Mr Smith feels obliged and entitled to retaliate, in order to pre-empt any hate (as defined by him) that might potentially occur at some point in the future. A line of moral reasoning that’s rather bold and which gives our saviour enormous scope for “forceful resistance” against almost anything he doesn’t like, even if it hasn’t happened yet. Naturally, Mr Smith, whose minor, incidentally, is “sexuality studies,” sees himself as a martyr: “I take full and sole responsibility for this action, I understand there will likely be consequences, and I am prepared for the imposition of those consequences, however unjust they might be.” Last night, Ezra Levant interviewed this fearless champion of the potentially oppressed. If nothing else, it’s an illustration of what happens when someone internalises the ticks and contortions of identity politics and cultivated victimhood. And when a passive-aggressive outlook is a person’s default state.

Update 2:

In the comments, one reader suggests that Mr Smith, who seems determined to remain on campus for as long as possible, may have developed something akin to institutional syndrome. Certainly, he’s learned to mouth the usual vanities, and the attempts to rationalise his authoritarian urges are accompanied with a smile. So those seven years and counting haven’t entirely been wasted. As another reader notes, Mr Smith appears to base his moral displays on which group a person can be said to belong to, if you squint and tilt your head, rather than on what a person actually does, or wishes to do, to others. And so Mr Smith tells us that, “Contrary to popular belief, feelings and emotions are entirely valid and matter.” (Unlike free speech, reciprocity and personal property, feelings must be inviolate.) Though some people’s feelings evidently trump others, to the extent that the feelings of Designated Victims – designated by Mr Smith – are to be spared even from potential questioning, while others – thee and me, I guess – will have to learn our place, humbled and silent, in the New Hierarchy.

It doesn’t require much of a stretch to see how such thinking might appeal to a certain, rather unpleasant, kind of personality. Which brings us to the nub of this grim comedy. Taken at face value, Mr Smith most likely imagines himself as daring and radical, shaking our preconceptions with his pretentious vandalism, all carefully wrapped in claims of put-upon virtue and Marxoid jargon. But it seems to me he’s all too ready to conform, and to insist that others do the same, while simply following a pattern of petty, dogmatic idiocy that we’ve seen many times before. Readers will note how these acts of vandalism are often encouraged by, or conducted by, uptight leftist faculty. They’re so very keen to show us what they will not tolerate. And in that respect, Mr Smith is the ideal, self-satisfied product of a modern leftist education.

Via Kate.

After wading through so much mental faeces, your host could use a drink.