Sunday, April 26, 2015

Unsafe on any Campus

David Bernstein asks:
Anyway, I’ve been wondering where and when this whole “makes me feel unsafe” thing started. Feel free to provide your theories in the comments [on the Volokh Conspiracy], but I’m more interested in knowing your age, any other biographical information that you think is pertinent (e.g., “I went to the progressive Friends School in Pittsburgh”), and, to the best of your recollection, when and where you first heard someone say that someone else’s non-threatening speech made them feel “unsafe.”
I can't load the comments, so I'll answer here: I'm a little younger than he. I went to a public college in the mid-90s and I remember PC being easily mocked. I was a free-speech advocate, and it was still a liberal -- and noble --  cause then, not something conservatives trotted out to excuse bigotry. (I don't think this is entirely true even though it does happen enough, but it is common leftist trope.) The first time I heard someone say that someone else's speech made them feel unsafe was probably on a blog and only in, maybe, the past five years or so. (Around the same time SJWs started gaining traction on social media.) There was no Twitter, no Facebook. The internet was pretty embryonic and the closest thing I had to a social media experience was Usenet.

I know it's easy to dump on millennials, but I do see this as a generational thing. When a generation  grow ups with the idea that they never have to hear anything that makes them uncomfortable, as adults they'll be less able to handle dissent. But I think social media plays a bigger part because it's, well, not as easy to ignore its fringe players when they're no longer confined to academia. A while ago, I watched a video of a handful of campus activists shouting down an anarchist speaker, accusing him of being a rape apologist because he's spoken out against the police state, among other things. (Being critical of rape culture or even rape statistics is a surefire way to position oneself on the wrong side of history, but those things shouldn't be above criticism.) It was cultlike. Anyway, to go back to the original question, at least in my experience, being made "unsafe" by speech or thought is a fairly recent occurrence, but I think online media has brought it out in the open.

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