Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Making Mincemeat of Hyman

In a continuation of
his latest jeremiad against radical leftwing professors of poetry, Hyman compares a handful of recent incidents in which conservative commentators have gotten pies in the face with political violence.

Would that all “violence” took such a benign form.

Let’s table for the moment the whole issue of whether pie-throwing = violence. We can even grant for the sake of argument that it is. I don’t have any particular sympathy with those so are so inarticulate that hurling pastry is the only way they can express themselves. Campuses should be places in which ideas of all stripes are heard and debated (which is not to say that all ideas are to be taken seriously—but let’s allow the idiotic to hoist themselves with their own petards).

While equating publicly embarrassing a speaker by dousing them with food with political violence is more than a tad hyperbolic, the true disingenuousness is in laying the blame for these incidents at the feet of “liberal academia.”

For example, let’s take the case of
William Kristol receiving a pie in the face at Earlham College. Once it happened, according to accounts, the majority of the audience booed and jeered the pie-thrower, obviously showing contempt for his actions. Does liberal academia get credit for the students who showed vocal disapproval as well as the blame for the one person who committed the act? I don’t happen to think academia should get credit or blame for either, but it’s patently absurd to hold that the academic establishment is responsible for the act of one student but not the reactions of the others.

Then there’s the idiocy of Hyman’s assertion that assaulting speakers is something that happens only to conservatives. On the contrary, to pick one notable recent incident, New York Times columnist and author
Chris Hedges was booed and heckled by students when giving a graduation speech at Rockford College in 2003. The reason? Hedges dared to suggest that maybe the war in Iraq had a downside. Booing and heckling are one thing, but Hedges had to cut his speech short and be escorted off stage by security because several students tried to climb on stage as he spoke. Hedges himself described the situation in an interview:

“Well yeah. I think what was so disturbing was that the crowd wasn't just angry,
but there was that undercurrent or possibility of violence. The fact that people
actually stormed up past those to get onto the podium and there was a feeling
that it was better to have me removed from the ceremony before the conclusion,
before the awarding of the diplomas. So the campus security sort of hustled me
out as they were handing out the diplomas.”

Of course, Hyman, as a stalwart defender of nonviolence and the right of free speech on campus condemned this silencing through intimidation, right?

Not quite. Hyman, along with a number of other prominent conservative pundits, attacked Hedges as “unpatriotic” for voicing his opinion. (For details on Hyman’s attack on Hedges, see the January 12, 2005 edition of The Counterpoint.)

More recently, of course, there was the incident in which Jane Fonda had tobacco juice spit in her face at a book signing. Hyman has thus far remained mute on the topic.

But several orders of magnitude higher on scale of frightening threats to public figures is the recent spate of
conservative comments making veiled and not-so-veiled threats at judges. Because certain judges have made decisions that displeased the radical right, several prominent Republicans have suggested that recent violence in courtrooms is the result of a runaway judiciary. While dimwitted undergrads are smearing Cool Whip on the faces of those they don’t like, elected politicians are intimidating members of another branch of government with the possibility of physical violence. Hyman’s decision about which of these represents the greater threat to the body politic says more about Hyman and those of his political stripe than all the posts I’ve written for this blog combined.

Hyman’s commentary actually is an extension of a similar commentary given a couple of weeks ago in which he discussed the
“Polly Awards,” given by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute to colleges the deem to be inappropriately politically correct. Approvingly summarizing their awards, Hyman claims the ISI is “nonpartisan.” By now, Hyman’s use of this word immediately sends me to Google to look up the funding of the group in question. Guess what? They’re an arch-conservative group.

The interesting thing about this earlier commentary, however, is that it further illustrates Hyman’s hypocrisy on the issue of academic freedom. According to Hyman (and ISI), Carnegie-Mellon University is to be condemned for inviting a controversial New Black Panther Party member Malik Zulu Shabazz to speak, but Occidental College is also condemned for cracking down on a college D.J. who made sexually offensive remarks on the air. It’s difficult to passionately defend the right of free speech on campus in some cases and then turn around and condemn it in others with not even the least sense of self-consciousness, but that’s our Mark.

(Parenthetically, this same commentary also reveals another area where Hyman is simply wrong. He often accuses the ACLU of only defending the rights of liberals—a silly comment to anyone with any recognition of the ACLU’s history. Dr. Hans Hoppe, a professor at UNLV, and Jason Antebi, a student at Occidental College, both conservative victims of political correctness run amok according to the Polly Awards and Mark Hyman, are being supported by the ACLU.).

There is a problem with college campuses becoming places where people feel their right not to be offended or challenged takes precedence over the right of others to speak their mind and hear controversial ideas expressed. But the problem is one that involves all parts of the political spectrum.
As a brief catalog of the controversies surrounding campus speakers (compiled by College Freedom) shows, you can get in trouble for voicing any divergent position. Speakers have been disinvited to speak because they were seen as being too pro-Palestinain, others for being too pro-Israel. Some are censored because they are seen as too anti-labor, others for being too-pro environment.

Blandness and conformity at colleges and universities is a problem—one much more widespread than Hyman lets on. It would be much easier to take Hyman seriously if he managed to show the least bit of consistency in his feigned horror at the silencing of free speech on college campuses. But he doesn’t. That’s because he doesn’t truly care about the issue on its own merits. It’s simply a convenient rhetorical bludgeon with which to hammer his perceived enemies. Unfortunately for him, his clumsiness with this weapon simply reveals the impotence of his own intellect.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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