Tag Archives: censorship

More Speech, Please: Activism, Censorship, and Whose Voices Get Heard

photo by Jonas Powell '18

photo by Jonas Powell ’18

Every few months, it seems, another one of those articles surfaces about how political correctness or trigger warnings or “social justice” is ruining the country or the educational system or everything. Our own President Roth reminded us a few weeks ago that “there is no right not to be offended.” These arguments typically suggest that because a few of us are so fragile and oversensitive, everyone is losing: words are banned, jokes are less funny, debates about important issues are diluted or even curtailed.

While I’m really not concerned if racist jokes lose their appeal, I agree that we need more, not less, conversation. Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away, and indeed, often worsens them. If we can’t talk about the systems of oppression that plague our society–racism, heterosexism, misogyny, classism–we’re going to have a hard time dismantling them. Sometimes frustratingly, we have to be able to talk about these issues not only among our own identity and affinity groups, but with people whose ideas are vastly different from ours. So yes, I agree that trying to shut down conversations about sensitive topics is problematic. (Which is not the same, please note, as removing oneself from a conversation because of personal history or trauma.) More speech, please.

The thing is, though, the targets of these arguments–the oversensitive college student, the person who can’t take a joke, the “social justice warriors”–hardly ever seem to be asking for less speech. Perhaps there are exceptions, but I cannot think of a single anti-racist activist who wants people to stop talking about racism. When we ask that certain words not be used or that our histories be treated with understanding and respect, we are not questioning whether these conversations should happen, but how. To worry that such efforts are ruining free-spirited debate seems, to me, to be missing the point.

Judith Butler, Judaism and Israel, and Free Speech

In case you haven’t heard from your critical theory-lovin’ friends, noted post-structuralist Judith Butler is coming to campus this Wednesday (4:00pm in Memorial Chapel), speaking in a pumped-up, academic-celebrity installment of the Center for the Humanities’ Monday Night lecture series. There was widespread excitement about her visit long before the topic of her speech was announced. But Butler, who once taught at Wesleyan, now has a new and quite different project underfoot, one that deals with an aspect of her own identity apart from gender: the difficult questions of Jewish identity and the Israeli state.

When she arrives here, she’ll still be hot off the heels of a controversy at CUNY-funded Brooklyn College, where prominent pro-Israel Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and a “battalion of New York lawmakers” threatened to cut the campus’s funding if the president refused to capitulate on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions panel at which she was speaking, according to Salon.

Fortunately, with the blessing of many significant political figures, including Mayor Bloomberg, Butler ended up being allowed to speak after all on February 8th, but she modified her words to address the controversy. Butler is a professor of rhetoric as well as comparative literature, and she added to her speech remarks addressing the not-already-converted:

Martin Benjamin’s Wespeak: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

Earlier this week I linked to Martin Benjamin ’57’s  latest Wespeak (wherein he pretty much directly accuses President Roth and Muslim Chaplain Marwa Aly of being terrorist sympathizers) and discussed Benjamin in general—his language, his seemingly relished notoriety, and his tenuous relationship with Wesleyan as both a student body and some sort of abstract representation of everything wrong with liberal America today. Of particular interest, at least to readers of Tuesday’s Argus, would be his flagrant Islamaphobia.

An anonymous source points out that the Wespeak, as it appears in Tuesday’s Argus, is not quite what Benjamin originally submitted; Argus editors chose to remove not to print key passages  deemed “excessively vulgar” and “blatant[ly] Islamaphobic” in tone. Whether the piece is really less vulgar with these passages withheld is entirely up for debate. Our intent is neither to support nor condemn the Argus‘s decision to censor—their policy to “withhold Wespeaks that are excessively vulgar” is entirely subject to editorial discretion. (Edit: EIC Katherine Yagle ’12 points out that Argus staff did not print the censored version without consulting Benjamin. Rather, they objected to the original submission, returned it to Benjamin with offending passages highlighted, and he resubmitted it with their edits applied.)

But does Benjamin’s piece qualify as “excessively vulgar”? Is it too outrageous and absurd to take seriously in the first place? Decide for yourself. The original “Open Letter to President Roth” is available here. Highlights denote passages removed before publication. Enjoy(?).

(And when you’re totally enraged by his “excessively vulgar” ranting, just remember that the guy also takes pretty pictures of nature.)