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Wendy Kaminer on ‘The Danger of Playing It Safe with Ideas’

Fresh from being accused of committing “an explicit act of racial violence” by openly discussing the word “nigger” during a panel discussion on free speech at Smith College, lawyer and FIRE Board of Advisors member Wendy Kaminer examines the mindset of her critics (and too many students like them) in an article for WBUR’s Cognoscenti blog today.

Discussing several incidents that will sound familiar to Torch readers, Kaminer observes that students frequently cite the rationale of “safety” in calling for censorship of protected speech—but what they seek is emotional and intellectual, not physical, safety. As she writes, this leads to a grave result:

Censorship is anathema to education.  How do you ensure your safety when you feel “attacked by viewpoints?” You shut down or avoid debates about controversial subjects that feature perspectives you don’t share. You demand enforcement of expansive speech and civility codes. You befriend or associate with only those people who share your ideology and sensibilities. You learn nothing apart from the “fact” that you’re always entirely and self-evidently right, while everyone else is entirely and self-evidently wrong.

Kaminer also articulates the other side of students’ demands for emotional safety:

If we have a right not to be offended, then we have no right to give offense. That means we have no reliable, predictable right to speak, because in diverse societies there are no universal opinions or beliefs that are universally inoffensive. If we have a legal right to feel emotionally safe and un-offended, we have a legal obligation to keep silent, which we violate at our peril. Emotionally safe societies are dangerous places for people who speak.

Read the rest of Kaminer’s article at Cognoscenti.

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