Last week I sat down for an interview in my backyard in Brooklyn with Brendan O’Neill, editor of the British online magazine spiked. Brendan has been filing reports for spiked from New York City and wanted to talk to me about my work dealing with censorship on college campuses as president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
The resulting article is as feisty and freewheeling as the conversation itself. Brendan writes:
The new censoriousness on campus – which, for the record, is as profound a problem in Britain as it is in the US – highlights some worrying new trends in today’s war on freedom of thought and speech. It shows that it is not only the state or even sections of the authorities that demand censorship today – all sorts of advocacy groups, educators and youthful organisations now crusade like modern-day Torquemadas for the silencing of their opponents. And it demonstrates the extent to which censorship today both springs from and reinforces a new degraded view of human subjectivity, a view of individuals as fundamentally psychologically fragile and thus in need of protection from allegedly dangerous ideas. In such circumstances, censorship can even be re-presented as a public good, designed not necessarily to police morality in any old-fashioned way but rather to manage relations between the various fragile sections of society. Perversely, censorship is repackaged as a way of protecting the powerless. That idea, more than any other, needs to be challenged, and the authoritarian, patronising, divisive, knowledge-hampering consequences of modern-day censorship exposed. We could really do with starting a FIRE in British universities, too.
Powerfully said. I’m glad to see that deep skepticism of “well-meaning” censors extends across the pond.
FIRE just posted a follow-up to the article on our blog The Torch, which reviews the cases mentioned in the interview in greater detail. Check them out! (And please forgive the photo, which led my 3-year-old niece to note my resemblance to the “Red Wiggle” of Australian kiddie pop fame.)