How “Silence is Violence” Can Became Compelled Speech

Freedom_of_SpeechBelow is my column in the Hill newspaper on the rising concern over compelled speech on our campuses and our streets.

Here is the column:

Silence is violence” has everything that you want in a slogan: Alliteration. Brevity. Simplicity. It also can be chilling for some in the academic and free-speech communities.

On one level, it conveys a powerful message that people of good faith should not remain silent about great injustices. However, it can have a more menacing meaning to “prove the negative” – demanding that people prove they are not racist.

In a prior column, I warned of the thin line between speech codes and speech commands, as people move from compelling silence to compelling speech: “Once all the offending statues are down, and all the offending professors are culled, the appetite for collective suppression will become a demand for collective expression.”

The line between punishing speech and compelling speech is easily crossed when free speech itself is viewed as a threat. It is not just the many cases of journalists, academics and others fired for expressing dissenting views. Even expressing support in the wrong way can be a terminal offense, like declaring “all lives matter” rather than “Black Lives Matter,” as in the firing of University of Massachusetts-Lowell Dean of Nursing Leslie Neal-Boylan or Vermont principal Tiffany Riley. While most of us support Black Lives Matter, it has become an official position of many schools — and variations are not tolerated. The concern is not only the establishment of orthodox values but the forced recitation of those values.

We are now seeing that fear realized.

This week, a mob surrounded diners outside several Washington restaurants, shouting “White silence is violence!” and demanding that diners raise a fist to support Black Lives Matter. Various diners dutifully complied as protesters screamed inches from their faces. One did not — Lauren Victor, who later said she has marched in protests for weeks but refused to be bullied. The mob surrounded her, and Washington Post reporter Fredrick Kunkle identified a freelance journalist as one of the people yelling at Victor and demanding: “What was in you, you couldn’t do this?”

It is the very mantra of orthodoxy: Failing to utter certain words, prayers or pledges is deemed a confession of complicity or guilt.

That demand for public affirmation was on display again Thursday when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and his wife were threatened by a mob after leaving the final event of the Republican National Convention. The couple was ordered to “Say Her Name,” referring to Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician shot by police in Louisville, Ky. Notably, some media suggested the mob did not know who Paul was; they just demanded that he say the name if he wanted to pass.

Forced speech can occur in a variety of direct and indirect ways. The University of Southern Maine’s president, Glenn Cummings, proclaimed “we must never tire of declaring that Black Lives Matter” and asked students and faculty to add their names to a public anti-racism pledge. After objections, the school said it would keep the list non-public. The concern was that some faculty and students may not support Black Lives Matters as an organization, or have other disagreements with the pledge — yet, failure to be on the list would indicate they are racist, or at least not sufficiently anti-racist.

The University of California issued a “guidance document” requiring students to reject racism, sexism, xenophobia and all hateful or intolerant speech, including a mandate that students stop others from referring to the “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus.” While the use of those terms is controversial, it also is heavily laden with political meaning for people on both sides of the debate over the pandemic.

Syracuse University moved more directly not just to bar but to require some forms of speech. Professor Keith Alford, the university’s diversity and inclusion officer, declared students would be punished for simply witnessing “bias-motivated” incidents and “acts of hate.” That was a response to a student group’s demand for expulsion of “individuals who witnessed the event or were present, but did not take part.”

The transition from speech codes to commands is based on the same notion of “speech as harm.” Just as speech is deemed harmful (and thus subject to regulation), silence is now deemed harmful. UC Berkeley Law Professor Savala Trepczynski, executive director of the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice, wrote that “White silence is incredibly powerful … It’s not neutral. It acts like a weapon.” It is certainly not unreasonable to call out others for not supporting important causes. Indeed, I have criticized faculty for remaining silent as colleagues were attacked or fired for voicing dissent about systemic racism, police abuse or other subjects. However, once both speech and silence are deemed as equally harmful, individuals are subject to public demonstrations of faith and fealty.

Even being insufficiently alert can result in demands for termination. Nearly 2,000 people signed a petition to fire Marymount Manhattan theater arts associate professor Patricia Simon after she appeared to fall asleep briefly during an anti-racist meeting held on Zoom. Student Caitlin Gagnon started a petition which accused Simon of “ignoring … racist and sizeist actions and words of the vocal coaches under her jurisdiction.” The message seems clear: You cannot be woke if you are not awake.

The concern over speech codes becoming speech commands would have been viewed as utterly absurd just a few years ago. Now, even calls for civility in dialogue have been denounced as racist dog whistles. Trinity College professor Johnny Williams condemned those who call for civility as “uphold[ing] white supremacist heteropatriarchal capitalist power.” When MSNBC host Joe Scarborough criticized those confronting people at restaurants and called for civility, University of Mississippi Professor James Thomas denounced civility and declared: “Don’t just interrupt a senator’s meal, y’all. Put your whole damn fingers in their salads.”

It is the ultimate expression of entitlement: People either must conform to your values or face public condemnation and threats. Your salad is no more inviolate than your speech. In a world where silence is violence and civility is complicity, there is little room for true free speech.


257 thoughts on “How “Silence is Violence” Can Became Compelled Speech”

  1. Like most criminals, Pelosi is unhappy she was caught on surveillance video committing a crime.

    “It’s the video’s fault.” Novel defense.

        1. “Criminals aren’t prosecuted in San Francisco anymore.”

          Young, that is obvious for if criminals were prosecuted Pelosi wouldn’t be roaming the streets and hair salons.

  2. Jonathan: Judging from the reaction of some of your followers my comment (9/1) touched a raw nerve–racial prejudice and the inability or unwillingness of some white people to seriously address their own demons. In my comment I mentioned that in my youth when I attempted to defend the civil rights movement I was called a “traitor” to my own race. After 60 years I am amazed that some people still adopt this line. In his reaction to my comment “Mr. Kurtz” says to me: “We [whoever that is] want to know what it means when a white person hates their own skin. I call it pathetic for starters.” For “starters” I don’t hate my own skin .I simply have come to recognize that my skin color gave me privileges unavailable to my black and brown brothers and sisters. That’s the first reality that many white folk won’t acknowledge. Second, many white people won’t acknowledge that the legacy of slavery is still with us in the form of racial discrimination in housing, health care (more blacks contract the coronavirus than whites), education and the ever present white racist police practice of incarcerating and killing black people in larger proportion to whites. Mr. Kurtz admits he benefited from white privilege. In fact he wears that privilege as a badge of honor. He says he is only here because his European ancestors “had to slay an uncountable number of others so I could be alive today. Then I can only thank them for it”. No doubt Mr. Kurtz would find kinship with Arkansas Republican Senator Tim Cotton who recently said that slavery was a “necessary evil upon which the union was built”. Well, Mr. Kurtz might disagree with the “evil” part. Mr. Kurtz further says that he would not be here except for the “victory of my ancestors in the struggle for existence–and my own”. Mr. Kurtz attributes this to the “mysterious Will of God at work”. I don’t think God would be pleased that he/she was the cause of the enslavement of millions of black people and the campaign of genocide against native populations. But why did God choose white people to carry out his or her plan? In Mr. Kurtz’s white centered world God must be white because If God were black or brown Mr. Kurtz would probably not be here.

    I would think that in this day and age the only people who get a platform for their racist views are followers of your posts. Unfortunately, they are everywhere from Trump’s tweeter account to US senators like Tom Cotton. I am glad you don’t impose “speech codes” on you followers. Otherwise, Mr. Kurtz would be hiding in the shadows.

    1. Oh Dennis it’s great to hear you dont hate your own white skin.

      You sure got offended by my remarks

      Yes I like Tom Cotton for other reasons not what you said. That remark does nothing for me either way. I am not an apologist for slavery nor a moralizer. If I have to look at it, I see it from persective of economics. Shame on me, how dare i.

      Slavery was a social institution of the pre-industrial era that helped allocate surplus labor to where it could be employed

      Slaves– not really talking about African slaves here, who were generally prisoners of war sold by othe Africans– but i mean slaves in other parts of the world for the past few thousand years or so– generally these were often poor folks who were “sold” because they could not be supported by their families. They were sold to households where they could be employed and paid in the form of room and board. This helped them not starve to death. From ancient Israel or Greece to 20th century pre-Communist China, it was a social institution which allocated surplus labor.

      All the while you folks are crying about it endlessly, keep in mind, without it, those people would have starved.

      Indeed, I often wonder, perhaps the immediate outlawing of chattel slavery in the PRC in 1947, being followed a mere 3 years later by a mass starvation counted in tens of millions, might not have been in part because the mainland economy did not have any chance to transition from feudal organization including lots of slavery to help keep people fed, to the command economy, which failed at it to such immense human suffering. Could there be a relationship?

      Maybe a gradual end to one form and a slower transition can be a good thing. Such as, a country like Brazil, where instead of having a Civil war with an excess of 300,000 citizen deaths, just on one side, they have a system to buy the manumission of slaves and do it using general tax levies. Say, that might have saved a lot of lives in America

      Crazy ideas I know. Only a person willing to transgress your phony moralistic outrage would dare to say such things. You are a sycophant of the BLM type Dennis. You have to curry favor with them, I could care less.

      Now I do care about insight into economics and history. I doubt you do. Your kind rarely does. If you paid me, I would give you scholarly citations that would support my contentions. As it is, you don’t merit them.

    2. Dennis– ” I simply have come to recognize that my skin color gave me privileges unavailable to my black and brown brothers and sisters.”


      You are in for a surprise. They don’t think they are your brothers and sisters.

  3. Pelosi backs closure and wearing masks to prevent Wuhan Virus spread but was caught getting her hair done without a mask in a shop that was closed pursuant to local law.

    One of the beauticians who rented a chair [but wasn’t paying rent] let Pelosi in without the consent of the owner of the shop.

    The Democrats really do behave like a politburo. Rules for everyone but them.

    1. In your conservative “bizzaro world”, yes.

      What drugs do you conservatives take? I want some!

    2. Tucker Carlson called it right

      Pelosi can be seen in a san francisco hair salon, wet hair, not wearing a mask, but she was almost alone, due to coronavirus regulations, salons in san francisco are closed to services.

      Nancy Pelosi went inside, and she can do that because she is the speaker of the house, third in line to the presidency. You cannot because you don’t have as much power as Nancy Pelosi. The owner of the salon was furious about this, and she told Fox news that pelosi’s trip was disturbing and a slap in the face to people not allowed to work because of nancy pelosi.

      meanwhile, our media was angry, too, not at nancy pelosi, but at you for finding out it happened. Over at “politico”,” one person was incensed by this, and she tweeted, and we are quoting, “have to ask, upon seeing this, is it legal in california, a two-party system consent state,videotape someone in a private home or business without their consent?” it was the owner’s fault, the security camera’s fault definitely not nancy pelosi’s set fault.

      1. Just a reminder that a Fox lawyer has argued that even when Carlson says things like “Remember the facts of the story; these are undisputed,” none of his viewers should assume that Carlson is making factual claims:

        CNN does claim to be reporting news:

        1. Yeah, Don Lemon reported that the missing Malaysian airliner may have gone into a black hole.

        2. Commmit…CNN did NOT report this story when it came out. I did a search of that day and NO mention of it at all…until the next day when so many others had the story they could not ignore it. That outta be a story, too…

      2. They does raise an interesting legal issue, can a burglar be videoed without his or her consent? We saw the case in NY the other day of the guy trying to rape woman in the subway. No one tried to stop him, however, he was videoed and has been arrested and released. 4Chan has tracked down 2 criminals in the last week within hours of their photo being put on line.

  4. Judge Sullivan apparently intends to hold the Flynn hearing after the election.

    And to think Justice Roberts, the judicial weather vane, dares to say there are no ‘Obama’ [political] judges.

    The federal judiciary is full of them and it is a national disgrace.

    1. If Flynn and the DOJ want the oral arguments to occur before the election, all they have to do is make a joint recommendation for argument dates before the election:

      “the parties are directed to file a joint status report with a recommendation for further proceedings by no later than September 21, 2020. The parties’ joint status report shall propose a briefing schedule regarding the deadlines for (1) the government and Mr. Flynn to file any sur-reply briefs; and (2) the government, Mr. Flynn, and the Court-appointed amicus curiae to file a consolidated response to any amicus brief of non-Court-appointed amicus curiae. It is FURTHER ORDERED that the parties shall propose three dates and times to hold oral argument. If the parties are unable to agree on a joint recommendation, the joint status report shall include each party’s individual recommendations.”

      If Sidney Powell hadn’t stupidly applied for the writ of mandamus, the oral arguments would have taken place in mid-July as scheduled, and Sullivan likely would have ruled on the DOJ’s motion already, and Powell could then have already appealed if Flynn didn’t like Sullivan’s ruling.

      1. You are assuming Sullivan would not have used the procedure you propose to inject more delay. Delay seems to be part of his intention and there is more than one way to achieve it. He had gone off the rails and it was up to a superior court to offer a corrective. They failed to do it.

        Odd that you seem to think you are smarter or more able than Sidney Powell. No lawyer here thinks so.

        1. “Odd that you seem to think you are smarter or more able than Sidney Powell.”

          Odd that you pretend to read my mind and interpret it that way, when it’s a fact that the CADC ruled against her and that the oral arguments before Sullivan were scheduled for mid-July.

          As for your claim “I modified ‘Obama’ judges as political judges” —
          Unless by “political” you mean “judges whose rulings I [Young] disagree with,” then there’s no reason to believe that judges appointed by Obama are any more political than those appointed by Trump, and probably less so (e.g., unlike Obama, Trump nominated multiple judges rated as unqualified by the ABA).

          1. Your declaration that Powell’s application for a Writ of Mandamus was ‘stupid’ suggests you know better than she. Do you interpret that statement differently?

            Or do you pretend to be able to read her mind or reason legally better than she?

            There is an unmerited arrogance seen in many of your declarations.

          2. I was a member of the ABA just long enough to know that I would not trust their judgment rating judges. Have you been a member?

    2. BTW, Sullivan was first appointed as a judge in DC by Ronald Reagan, then appointed by GW Bush to the DC Court of Appeals, and then by Clinton to be a federal judge for the District Court of DC. Obama wasn’t involved.

      1. Commit — That is why I modified ‘Obama’ judges as political judges — ‘Obama’ [political] judges’ .It is a type often seen in Obama appointees but not exclusively with them. Politics rather than law is their Pole Star in some cases.

  5. From Brittanica:

    ” The point of the deconstructive analysis is to restructure, or “displace,” the opposition, not simply to reverse it.”

    Says those attempting to compel speech or compel the raising of fists.

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