I recently watched “No Safe Spaces,” a 2019 documentary about the controversies of free speech on today’s college campuses.
One can view it, for a fee, at NoSafeSpaces.com, or order the DVD. The film features conservative talk show host Dennis Prager and comedian Adam Carolla, former co-host of the nationally syndicated radio program “Loveline.” Carolla is now a successful podcaster. The film also features many other commentators on both sides of the political aisle, such as political analyst Van Jones, professor Jordan Peterson, and YouTube interviewer Dave Rubin.
The film does a great job of revealing how free speech is increasingly under assault at colleges across the country, showing conservative speakers being shouted down, or even riots taking place when a college invites a speaker which the left finds offensive.
One thing that stood out for me was the fact that so many of the young people who attend college see themselves as victims. Whether they are women, people of color, transgender or anything other than a straight, white, male, the left has convinced them they are a victim of some kind of oppression. Once you view yourself as a victim it can be a horrible obstacle, but also a powerful weapon.
In the film Prager states he’s convinced “that a certain percentage of unhappy people are addicted to being unhappy.” Talk show host Dave Rubin agreed with Prager, stating, “Think about how empowering it is to say, ‘your problems are not because of you . . . the system is against me.’” Rubin is a former liberal who no longer identifies with the left, due to what he calls their close-mindedness and hostility toward anyone who does not follow the liberal orthodoxy.
Shelby Steele, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, also is featured in the film. He condemned the victimization culture, which is especially embraced by his fellow blacks.
“At some point down the road,” he said, “we as blacks, are going to realize the degree to which we identify our aspirations, in victimization. The degree to which we rely on it, not just as an excuse, but as self-definition.”
Steele does not deny the existence of racism in America but is concerned that far too many young blacks use racism as an excuse for failure. Or they use it as a reason to act out in an aggressive manner, such as shouting down speakers they disagree with, which is common on college campuses.
The film also features a clip from a speech by conservative talk show host Ben Shapiro, given at the University of California, Berkeley. This was a presentation that was greatly protested by the left, and required $800,000 in security, because Shapiro made controversial comments, such as, “America is the greatest country in human history. You are not a victim. If you are a victim of something, you need to show me what you are a victim of and I will stand beside you. But do not blame the freest, most civil society in the history of planet Earth for your failures, because that’s on you.”
But, why do so many young people at our colleges view themselves as victims, and then act out in an aggressive manner? There are many reasons, but perhaps the main thing is it is easier to attack someone rather than take responsibility for your own failures. A person’s grief at being a victim becomes a grievance. An IOU becomes a you owe me, according to the magazine Psychology Today.
In one of his books, conservative black author Larry Elder writes of a time when he was ready to take an academic test with a group of people, among them another young black man. After they took the test and were waiting for the results, the other black man told Elder there was no way either of them was going to pass the test, because the system was stacked against them. When the results came in and the other person failed, he told Elder, “See, I told you so,” and then walked out. Elder, however, passed the test and ended up completing the course. For Elder, it was one of his first realizations that far too many of his fellow blacks use their skin color as an excuse for their own failings. We used to advise young people to get a thick skin, such as “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Now, we seem to be intolerant of insults, even if unintentional. For example, on some college campuses it is considered offensive if you ask a student, “Where are you from?” I even came across a diversity seminar where the presenter advocated that words are just as harmful as bullets!
If you view yourself as a victim of oppression or stand up for others who are perceived as victims, you are going to view yourself as holding the moral high ground. You are going to tend to divide people into good and bad, or victims and oppressors. The problem is that when you view the other side as bad people, then you feel justified in your aggression. And that is why many young people advocate restricting speech. But they are not against all speech, just hate speech. And they will be the ones who define what hate speech is, which means they have the power.
Unfortunately, this power does not translate into resilience, as some colleges have established “safe spaces”: areas where students can get away from anything that may be causing them stress. Sadly, as the documentary “No Safe Spaces” shows, it is the entire college that a conservative speaker is not allowed, not just a safe space. Thus, freedom of speech is the actual victim of oppression. And this is one victim we should all be concerned about.
Tom Kuiper lives in Sibley. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.