Saturday, August 12, 2017

"We support free speech, but [we don't support free speech]."

Those who follow me on Facebook know that I enjoy quoting the various "We support free speech, but..." excuses from censors as they explain why they fired or disinvited or blacklisted people whose views they don't like. Remarkably, two different vice presidents at Google used this formulation in their reactions to employee James Damore's common-sense points about gender differences.

From one VP:
Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But...
And from another VP:
Questioning our assumptions and sharing different perspectives is an important part of our culture, and we want to continue fostering an environment where it’s safe to engage in challenging conversations in a thoughtful way. But...
In a recent piece for National Review, I took the opportunity to list several other examples of but's and however's that I've come across over the years. Two that I did not list -- to avoid making the piece seem self-serving -- were statements made by Harvard students who wanted the university to retroactively reject my dissertation. From a coalition of 23 ethnic student groups: "In any healthy democracy there is always disagreement, but..." And from a student petition with nearly 1,000 signatures: "Academic freedom and a reasoned debate are essential to our academic community. However..."

Maybe it should be encouraging that censors feel obligated to praise free speech in the abstract. But there's something Orwellian about their statements that troubles me even more than a straightforward rejection of free speech would. "We support X, but we oppose X" feels like an attempt to dull people's senses, to encourage them not to think too hard lest they become troubled by what's happening around them.