Saturday, March 17, 2007

Way to Miss the Point

Here is a nice illustration of the difference between conservatives and libertarians. It's a satirical column by Mike Adams - criminology professor at UNC-Wilmington and professional right-wing gadfly - poking fun at Kent State's (presumably hypocritical) refusal to strip a certain Prof. Julio Pino of his tenure after it's come to light that he authors a pro-terrorist Islamic extremist website.

Of course, Pino denies this charge despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I really liked this earlier Adams column, which points out that this makes Pino a pussy. And, in general, Adams is a good read on the left wing bias and bullshit currently choking academia.

The general story goes something like this: Pino (allegedly) authors a pro-Jihadist website and uses (or has used) some school equipment to do it. It's chock-full of all the normal Islamic wankery - you know, 9/11 was a glorious day, calls for worldwide revolution against infidels (read: the US), etc. In short, not too terribly different from all the pro-Maoist shock-jocking that was common from self-styled "radicals" in the early 70s (many of whom not-too-coincidentally were at Kent State). Not too surprisingly, all kinds of conservatives are calling on Kent State to make a patriotic stand and fire the bastard. Equally unsurprisingly, Kent State insists that academic freedom covers even this kind of thing (though they're interestingly simultaneously arguing that there is no conclusive evidence that Pino is the author of the site in question - or some such).

Dr. Adams' latest column turns the situation on its head by urging readers to write in and protest the existence of a pro-KKK professor on campus who authors a racist blog advocating "ethnic cleansing" of blacks. As satire, it's pretty damn funny. We all know (from the existence of "hate speech" codes and the like on campuses across the nation - including Kent State, no doubt) that the university administration would take a very different view of such a professor. Firing an active KKK member would be a no-brainer for most universities; if Pino were anti-black we wouldn't have needed Dr. Adams to bring this case to the public because Kent State would have quietly let him go a long time ago. So as satire, this really works.

What bugs me about it is that Dr. Adams seems serious about wanting Pino fired for his beliefs. I'm gonna hafta go with Kent State on this one: academic freedom covers even this case. Pino is free to call for global Jihad all he wants. That's his First Amendment right, and for many practical reasons it is especially important to defend that right for academics and students (though of course it is also crucial in the so-called "real" world). And if there turned out to be a white racist extremist at Kent State, it goes without saying that his academic freedom would be every bit as important as Pino's.

Now, granted, the First Amendment only says that Congress can't pass laws proscribing speech. Kent State is free to fire whomever it wants for whatever reason in my book. But that doesn't mean they should. This is precisely what academia is for: letting the thousand flowers bloom. So let them bloom. No "weeding" allowed. I find it really frustrating that Adams (and so many other conservatives) miss the irony of someone who made a career out of standing up to ideological bullying in academic now wants Kent State to fire someone based solely on his (admittedly annoying) opinions.

And, finally, here is what a Kent State spokesperson had to say about Piner:

"Julius Piner was not actually linked to the site, "Kill the Negroes," nor did he use any university resources when he was not operating it. Furthermore, there is no evidence that he ever advocated killing Negroes in his class lectures. We all have to remember that academic freedom is an important part of university life, even when we disagree with the views being expressed."

"Julius Piner" is, of course, meant to be "Julio Pino." The point of this passage is presumably to show how absurd it is to defend someone's free speech when he advocates genocide. I would say, however, that advocating genocide and actually doing it are two completely different things. The latter is illegal, the former is protected free speech - hard as that pill is for some to swallow. In short, though Adams means this as a reductio ad absurdum of the "free speech trumps all" argument, I actually take it seriously. Public schools should not fire people for their political views - regardless of what those views are. Perhaps censoring what such people teach (to keep it in line with the university's mission, etc.) is acceptable - but what Pino does on his own time should be his own business.

The reason that it's important to go with principle over feelings of propriety here is that nearly anything can be spun as "hateful" or "anti-social" or what have you. A guarantee of academic freedom is worthless if it comes with the caveat that the university will fire you if you say something "particularly" objectionable! After all - "objectionable" to whom? Sorry, but I've seen the kind of pro-Socialist, pro-Feminist, pro-Minority censorship that goes on. If you encourage Kent State to fire someone for advocating terrorism, you're chipping away at the case that they shouldn't screen out conservatives, etc. in their hiring process. This is the same kind of absurdity that's behind David Horowitz' Academic Bill of Rights. Now granted, there's nothing in the actual Academic Bill of Rights (read it here) that I disagree with, I just don't like Horowitz' tactics. He wants universities to make this campus code - just like the old speech codes - and enforce it with oversight panels that would presumably require that "all viewpoints are represented," etc. In short, Horowitz isn't opposed to affirmative action, he just wants it to apply to people like him too.

Well, when Dr. Adams talks this way, I wonder how deep his commitment to free speech is. When you actively call for someone's firing based solely on his political opinions, then you're skating dangerously close to being "fine with censorship, I just wanna be one of the censors!"

Until anyone can prove that Pino violated any part of his contract (which I assume requires him to abide by campus codes, etc.), I say he should keep his job. Contracts are contracts are contracts; you don't get to break them because you find out the person you hired believes in something you hate. And free speech is free speech is free speech. It means exactly nothing to have a First Amendment if we allow the government to decide that certain opinions are "not protected." Sure, it seems harmless enough to censor the Muslim radicals now - but once we censor them we've got a nasty precedent on our hands, and governments have proven surpsingly adept at taking nasty precedents and running with them (pity they can't do as good a job running the public school system). None for me, thanks!

This is, it seems to me, the essential difference between Libertarians and Conservatives. We know what our principles are, and we don't blink at reductio ad absurdum traps. Conservatives don't really have principles - just vague guidelines that they apply when and if it "feels right" to do so.


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