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A lot of people like to crow about freedom of speech and the open exchange of ideas. But these days, it seems like the only speech anybody is in favor of allowing is speech THEY like.
Case in point: After a video surfaced of comedian Owen Benjamin talking about transgender children – and the fact that he thinks it is insane for parents to allow children as young as eight to take hormone blockers, even joking that he was feminine enough as a child that some would have thought he was transgender – he had a standup gig at UCONN cancelled, as the University said Benjamin’s views weren’t in keeping with their values.
This has become a fairly common occurrence. Speakers with any view that is not approved of by the intelligentsia end up being disinvited from speaking and shunned like pariahs. It is happening all over the country, predominantly to conservative leaning speakers, although even noted liberals like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins have been targeted.
The most ridiculous part of this particular case is the fact that Benjamin is a comedian, who mostly does silly jokes and plays piano. He isn’t some ideologue who was booked to give a speech. But that didn’t matter to UCONN, who apparently thought his words on the issue of parenting transgender children might trigger some people.
To be fair, liberals are not the only ones guilty of this. I wrote yesterday about the president’s call for football players who kneel during the national anthem to be fired and many seem to agree. While I do not agree with kneeling for the anthem, I also do not think anybody should be cut or fined for doing it.
Quite frankly, if we are ever going to move forward as a society, we have to be willing to listen to opposing viewpoints, not just the ones we agree with. And in a case like the one involving Owen Benjamin, if his views were so offensive to any individual person, that person had the option to not attend the show, while others who wanted to enjoy his comedy could have done so. That decision has now been taken out of the hands of UCONN students and those who live in the surrounding area, and that is a damn shame.
As those who know me are aware, I was born and raised in a country that is far more restrictive with speech than the United States. Or at least it was. I will never forget when I first came to the United States and was introduced to comedians like Richard Pryor and George Carlin. The fact that these guys were free to say what they said was unbelievable to me. I remember loving the fact that there were people who pushed the boundaries and were even able to be rewarded for it.
But that seems like a lifetime ago. Now, if anything said offends somebody, nobody else is allowed to hear it. I have three girls and was always careful with them growing up as far as closely monitoring what they were and were not exposed to until they reached a certain age. It appears as though college administrators and other opponents of a free and open exchange of ideas think this is their job now.
Except it never was before and it should not be now. College students are supposed to have their worldview challenged on a regular basis. That was always the whole point of college: Expose young people to new ideas so they can learn and grow. But again, that was then, and this is now. Instead of being challenged, students are now being coddled, protected to the point where they grow up and become unable to handle a comedian’s opinion on parents of transgender children or a football player taking a knee.
It is worth remembering that if you shut down speech you don’t like, it is only a matter of time before somebody decides that speech you do like is no longer acceptable, and that gets shut down, too. The answer to bad speech is good speech.
But the way things have been going, I don’t know how anybody could even differentiate between the two anymore.
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