Free Speech on College Campuses

Linas Vepstas
3 min readMay 17, 2018

Free speech on college campuses. This is debated in some circles. Some of the debaters seem not to understand what is happening. Here’s a meta-explanation.

College campuses — the 16–22 year-old-set, tend to give voice to what was silently burbling about in homes and social settings five years earlier, when they were 10–17, first becoming aware of socio-political issues in their community. They absorbed, as pre-teens, and now they speak, as they morph into young adults … importantly, these are their first coherent self-expressions, as they first learn how to harness confused thoughts into rational structures. This is the time of life where you learn how to think in a principled manner, and how to give these thoughts a voice, a coherent and compelling statement.

So, what are they saying? They are saying that, five years earlier, as pre-teens, they witnessed that the very social fabric around them was being shredded. Economic well-being (viz various unemployed adults around them) medical/health well-being (murmurs of acquaintances being denied health-insurance), collapse of the justice system (bottomless, endless litany of outrages and injustices, esp on social media), environmental collapse (global-warming denial). This is was the soup that the pre-teens were in. They were not actively engaged with it. They mostly did not understand what it meant. They mostly weren’t even aware of any of this, as a foreground thought-process. Rather, it was overheard murmurs in a waking dream-life. But it does sink in, and deeply, into the brain: civilization is teetering on the verge of collapse.

Its also quite clear who it is that can be blamed for this civilizational collapse: in the US, its the GOP, the right-wing parts of the Democratic party, and decades of insane right-wing policy. In Europe, I don’t know what name to hang on the destroyers, the toadies. I imagine the European college students have a pretty good idea of who they are.

So: when your orientation in life is under attack, you become hostile to your attackers. I hope that is not a surprise. There is a fairly well-defined enemy, who is hard at work trying to destroy Western civilization; pretending that this enemy should have “free speech rights” is insane. Its not a rational, coherent stance when one is under attack. It’s one thing to be tolerant of speech while sitting in a pub, drinking, it’s quite a different thing to be tolerant of speech when the other side is burning down the pub.

It’s become fairly clear that the right-wing forces have become dupes for the oligarch classes, and are willing participants in the destruction of society. When you attempt to destroy society, you don’t get free-speech rights. The right-wingers need to be silenced, and much more; they are not beneficial agents; they are marauding destroyers. This is the civilizational crisis that we have attained.

If we don’t fix this problem, and soon, it could end in large-scale bloodshed. College campuses, as always, are the canary in the coal-mine for greater cultural shifts. You must not blame the canary for dying of poisonous fumes; you must not get confused about what the death of that canary actually means. The problem is not on college campuses; it is far, far removed from there.