After writing his lofty letter to the campus, Chancellor Hexter did nothing in his power to uphold free speech at the Milo Yiannopoulos event on Jan. 13. There were rumors on the web of an intervention from the upper echelons of the UC Davis administration. However, the protesters shut down an event that drew at least a thousand attendees.
Edmund Burke, describing the storming of the Bastille by a mob, drew attention to the irrational and inhuman tendencies of enraged revolutionary mobs. Although the highest Enlightenment ideas inspired the French Revolution, the conservative philosopher reminds us in his description of the assault on Queen Marie Antoinette in her chambers of a mob’s self-righteous abandonment of compassion and civility.
I don’t think I am disrespecting Mr. Yiannopoulos by saying that we, too, were waiting for the Queen of Free Speech. The mob drove him hence. The “peaceful protest” was terrifying.
How did supposedly peaceful protesters manage to shut down a talk? The cyber grapevine reported that the police deemed the menace of the mob — its potential for assault, battery or damage to property — urgent enough that the event should be cancelled.
My partner and I waited for almost two hours after the supposed start of the event. I think most of those on the ticketed and endless non-ticketed lines believed the two sly young speakers would manage to outwit the mob.
If the protesters actually did throw eggs and other objects at the attendees of the talk, why weren’t they arrested on charges of assault? Why weren’t they registered and disciplined for infringing on our First Amendment right to peaceful assembly? Will they be? Or will Mr. Hexter sweep this all under the rug and affirm free speech while actually upholding censorship and intolerance?
Like virtually all the people standing in line with me, I went to this lecture to hear what these speakers, whose personalities and philosophies differ from many of us, had to say about contentious issues.
Everybody I met in line, some who identified as politically to the right and others, like a student of mine I spotted, as a progressive, just wanted to see what these two larger-than-life young men had to say.
In the conduct of protesters there was no compassion, only tyranny demonstrated through an attempt to control the campus. They were not concerned with the thoughts and feelings of their neighbors, but only in the control and censorship of them. They demonstrated that free speech is dead on college campuses. The UC is but another casualty of the Orwellian silencing of ideas across American universities.
A university system that is by and large the common treasure of all taxpayers, Republicans and Democrats, cannot be controlled just by the left. It’s bad enough that Ms. Napolitano, the president of the UC system, was raising money this autumn and making excuses for Hillary Clinton while heading a huge public university system.
I find it profoundly ironic, but not unexpected, that the regressive left component on campus, a small but loud voice, managed to stop a gay man with his own vision of the world from talking to our community.
In the end, we are numb, and everything becomes white noise if we don’t encounter opinions that differ from our own with all our intelligence, emotional presence and good will. The protesters think they triumphed, but they only succeeded in taking us one step closer to the death of the university.
Jeffrey Weiner is a lecturer in the Department of Comparative Literature
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