Originally published via No College Mandates Newsletter:
Let’s establish at the outset that the purpose of this treatise is not to litigate the merits of transgender ideology or the current Middle East war. Those are separate discussions for a separate forum, which should be subject to open debate (that’s how we solve social/political problems in a civilized society); I only raise them here as examples.
Rather, this is about free speech vs. authoritarianism and its real-world consequences.
With that caveat, moving on to substance.
Here’s a little true ditty from my days as an undergraduate student in the sociology department of a mid-sized public university back in 2009:
The professor for my course — titled “Race, Class, and Gender Inequality,” which I signed up for mainly for the class portion (as an adolescent class warrior, as all decent college students are) — turned out to be the most hardcore Social Justice Warrior I had ever encountered up until that point. (This was many years before SJWs had a name.)
To briefly paint a picture, she sported an aggressive mullet, frequently declared with pride that she was raising her son outside of the gender binary, and wore a gigantic, in-your-face peace medallion around her neck every day without fail.
On one occasion, this professor announced an opportunity for extra credit: attending a seminar conducted by a visiting transgender woman purported to be a pioneer for the gender revolution in South Georgia. (This was before the Cultural Revolution of the mid-2010s turned 7.1% of the population LGBTQ+++™, when transgenderism was still an anomaly)
Here is the relevant point: as part of the activity, this professor informed the class beforehand that the attendees were strictly forbidden from asking any questions related to this individual’s sexuality, even non-explicit ones concerning the social aspect of their sexuality.
Part of her rationale for proscribing such queries was ensuring the “safety” of this individual, which via inexplicable means would somehow be threatened by asking them about such things.
Mind you, the fact that this person’s sexuality was divergent from the norm was the entire point of having them speak on campus in the first instance and, indeed, the subject of their lecture itself.
Without hyperbole, it was an incredibly strange prohibition, given that free inquiry and discourse were historically the cornerstones of liberal arts in higher education.
And this was the first moment I realized something was seriously off in academia. Protections for free speech on campus have only gotten worse since then.
We are all familiar by now with the aforementioned mini-Cultural Revolution that overtook American universities beginning sometime around 2015. Speakers of ill repute, duly invited to speak by student groups and entitled to all due Constitutional free speech protections on public university property, were the targets of wild protests that often devolved into full-on riots — all to prevent the expression of ideas subjectively deemed beyond the pale.
“American Millennials are far more likely than older generations to say the government should be able to prevent people from saying offensive statements about minority groups, according to a new analysis of Pew Research Center survey data on free speech and media across the globe.
We asked whether people believe that citizens should be able to make public statements that are offensive to minority groups, or whether the government should be able to prevent people from saying these things. Four-in-ten Millennials say the government should be able to prevent people publicly making statements that are offensive to minority groups, while 58% said such speech is OK.”
For anyone with a basic understanding of the most fundamental tenets of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, this anti-free speech ethos embraced at a shocking clip by millennials indoctrinated in Western universities is wildly at odds with the function that institutes of higher learning are meant to serve as the ultimate free market of ideas to be exchanged and developed in the best traditions of the West.
So, what does any of this have to do with COVID vaccine mandates on college campuses?
There are many ways that these Stalinist attitudes toward speech affected how the COVID authoritarianism on campuses nationwide went down, and many reasons for such authoritarianism.
Certainly, universities’ close ties with the pharmaceutical industry in terms of research and development of drugs in institutional labs plays a role in why vaccine mandates have remained in place for so long even after they’ve been lifted almost everywhere else (for now). But “safetyism” is another huge reason.
Censorship regimes on college campuses have often justified themselves under the guise of “safetyism” — the idea that “safety” (defined in whatever way the governing authorities see fit) trumps all other concerns, including free speech and, in the context of COVID injection mandates, individual medical autonomy.
“Safetyism refers to a culture or belief system in which safety has become a sacred value, which means that people are unwilling to make trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns.”
– The Coddling of the American Mind
One of the sublime practical utilities of safetyism is its versatility; as the Swiss Army knife of speech killers, almost any authoritarian overreach can be justified under its auspices, whether that be clampdowns on free speech under the guise of fighting “hate speech” or literal lockdowns and vaccine mandates under the guise of “public safety.”
Consider, for instance, the pseudo-religious frequency with which the “safety” mantra appears in the May 2021 Brown University “Updated COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy”:
“In light of improving public health conditions on campus and in Providence and Rhode Island, we are announcing a number of significant changes that enable increased campus activities. As noted by President Paxson in her announcement last week regarding COVID-19 vaccination requirements, we have been working on revising the COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy…
The residential nature of our community and the priority we place on individual and collective health and safety warrant a phased approach…
The COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy has been updated to reflect current medical and health guidance, regulations of the State of Rhode Island and public health conditions…
Laboratories with approved safety plans may continue to operate at a density of one person per 75 square feet, with three feet social distancing and mask-wearing required until we are confident the employee and student vaccination rates are at 90% or above…
University-sponsored domestic travel to a destination within the United States or U.S. territories is permitted for faculty, staff, graduate and medical students, and undergraduates. Travelers do not need to seek pre-departure travel review or approval but are required to register their travel plans in TravelSafe…
We look forward to continuing to work together to maintain a safe and healthy and increasingly active campus in the weeks and months ahead.”
On universities campuses, as well as wider society to a lesser extent, there is increasingly no room allotted for a balancing between basic fundamental rights like medical autonomy and free speech against “safety,” which, again, assumes the role of religious dogma in the minds of Branch COVIDians.
God is dead; He’s been replaced with the nannies in Public Health™ bureaucracy, working hand in glove with the pharmaceutical industry and university administrators.
Ben Bartee, author of Broken English Teacher: Notes From Exile, is an independent Bangkok-based American journalist with opposable thumbs.