Conservative agitator/ campus troll Milo Yiannopoulos’s Free Speech Week in Berkeley, California was advertised as a major event, bringing some of the most Left-reviled conservative speakers and rabble-rousers together for four straight days of speeches and events on a campus that has repeatedly disgraced itself by being hostile to speech its primarily progressive denizens consider “hate speech.”
The University of California was taking elaborate measures to avoid the violence that protesters there and at other campuses have brought to appearances by many of the featured speakers. It was rumored that as much as $600,000 would be spent on security. The prospect of the rhetoric of such professional provocateurs as Yiannopoulosas, Steve Bannon and Ann Coulter, to name the best known, echoing around the school where it was least welcome promised an instant cultural touch-point, like a right-wing Woodstock, while challenging leftists and ideological censors to reveal their ugly, totalitarian sides.
But by the end of the week, many were predicting that the event was a mirage. Speakers whose names had been promoted on preliminary schedules either pulled out, denied they had been contacted or said they were never planning to go. The campus publication sponsoring Yiannopoulos’s circus, The Berkeley Patriot, never reserved indoor school venues. Yiannopoulos kept up the pretense, announcing on Instagram a planned march through campus tomorrow in protest of Berkeley’s hostility to free speech. “It’s time to reclaim free speech at UC Berkeley and send shockwaves through the American education system to every other college under liberal tyranny,” Yiannopoulos wrote.
Today, the day before the “Week” was to begin, UC Berkeley announced that ‘Free Speech Week’ was officially cancelled, saying,
“Representatives of the Berkeley Patriot student organization have informed UC Berkeley’s administration that all of the events scheduled for the coming week have been canceled. It is extremely unfortunate that this announcement was made at the last minute, even as the university was in the process of spending significant sums of money and preparing for substantial disruption of campus life in order to provide the needed security for these events.”
Now there is mass confusion, with strong indications that the event was a sham from the start. Lucian Wintrich, one of the planned speakers, e-mailed Cal spokesman Dan Mogulof this morning, to say that the event had been a set-up from the start. “It was known that they didn’t intend to actually go through with it last week, and completely decided on Wednesday,” Wintrich wrote.
“Wait, whoah, hold on a second,” replied Mogulof. “What, exactly, are you saying? What were you told by MILO Inc? Was it a set-up from the get-go?”
Wintrich replied, “Yes.”
An account of the chaos and miscommunications surrounding the event published by The Atlantic yesterday certainly made this development seem probable. Milo, as late as this afternoon, insisted that the intention was always to hold a real week of speeches. He has as much credibility as someone who makes his living creating controversies and infuriating his ideological foes deserves to have: none.
What’s going on here?
I have no idea. Maybe this was a master trolling effort, forcing a school that has done much to undermine free speech values to waste money protecting the campus against violence that its own biased anti-freedom of thought and expression culture seeded. Maybe it was a hoax to trigger embarrassing reactions by the school to the looming horror of unwelcome speech, like those I wrote about here, and here. Maybe this is another example of incompetent event planning and management. I do know this, however:
While it is true that the importance of the First Amendment is that it protects controversial, unpopular and inflammatory speech, since measured, popular and reasonable speech seldom need protection. But jerks, creeps and assholes make lousy champions. For one thing, their association with free speech makes free speech look bad to those who don’t comprehend or agree with the basic principle. For another, because they are jerks, assholes and creeps ( let’s call them JAC*, for short) they are likely to abuse the right. You can’t trust jerks, assholes and creeps. Moreover, when they are abused, they make terrible martyrs, as we saw in Charlottesville. Ethics Alarms had to defend the right of white nationalists to hold a Nazi-style torchlight parade without having to face urine-bombs thrown by antifa jerks, assholes and creeps, but I knew that most people’s brains shut off regarding such fine points of civil rights and ethics. It’s a little like defending the Exclusionary Rule, which allows criminals to go free even though police have found smoking gun evidence because the authorities violated the Fourth Amendment acquiring it. You know you’re right on law and ethics, but you still feel terrible making the argument.
I also know that while launching a phony event to freak out Berkeley, trigger weak-minded students and create massive controversy is unethical, Berkeley and much of the academic community were asking, begging to be treated this way. The Mercury News wrote,
In the days leading up to the supposed start, students and faculty said they were fed up with the time and public resources being spent on accommodating a man who has made a career of trolling people online and spewing racist and sexist vitriol.
“It’s just too much,” said UC Berkeley junior Dominick Williams, 20. “We’re just trying to learn.”
Max Wolf-Johnson, a Cal senior, agreed, noting that professors had preemptively canceled many of his classes, he said.
“Actual intellectual discourse is halted,” he said.
And who is responsible for the mere threat of conservative, extremist, even racist speech disrupting a campus and prompting violence? It is those who would try to silence the speakers, and a university and its faculty that indoctrinates students to oppose diversity of ideas by teaching that there is only one acceptable view of the world….theirs.
Berkeley needed a real “Free Speech Week” to re-establish, if it could, that its campus wasn’t hostile to non-conforming views. Of course, it is hostile, which was what Milo was trying to show, as if any further evidence was needed. Instead, he demonstrated that the speakers reviled by the left really are untrustworthy JACs. This is not the way to enlighten people. It is how biases are reinforced.
Good job, everybody.
*I know, I know..
Pointer: Imjustsaying, who owes me a real name. And let me add this: suggestions for posts accompanied with comments like “how can this story NOT merit ethics commentary?” and “Bet this is another significant episode you won’t/can’t find ethical implications for” will get you banned. I’m not anyone’s ethics monkey; I write what I choose to write about according to what interests, engages and amuses me. You are encouraged to come along for the ride, but I’m driving.