As much as it pains me to agree with the Oberlin Republicans and Libertarians, we do have a free speech problem on this campus. I think the reaction to Obietalk’s resurfacing is a clear demonstration of that. This is not to say that OCRL has acted appropriately or constructively. The hyperbolic posters likening my peers to figures like Stalin served only to prevent civil discourse. Ms. Bentivegna’s piece in the Review (“Romney Voters Shouldn’t Feel Shamed, Pressured by Fellow Students,” Nov. 9) can best be described as sanctimonious drivel devoid of logical argument.
However, the response to Obietalk has been equally absurd. My friends and classmates have responded with increasingly indignant outrage as time has gone on, which has only prompted more bigoted and incendiary statements to be made. Now we are spiraling down this positive feedback loop. To quote an anonymous comment on Obietalk, “Obietalk is not clearly a good or bad thing for the people who go here, but in principle it should be allowed. Freedom of speech shouldn’t be limited for the sake of people’s feelings.” The First Amendment does not legally apply to private institutions, but the principle does. The same applies to any civil liberty. I am not defending hate speech. I am saying our propensity to morally pontificate away all our problems does not work.
In many ways, we are the embodiment of Richard Ellis’s Dark Side of the Left. Ellis’s book warns of the dangers of embracing equality without liberty. Our tendency to speak only in the set language of oppression and privilege has constrained our ability to think in broader terms. Many times, I have found it difficult to have discussions even with people I agree with because I was worried more about my word choice than about my positions. As an example, this week while I was trying to defend Obamacare, I was told by a professor that economic markets do not apply to health care. Had I used different phrasing, he would have mostly agreed with my position.
All this accomplishes is to alienate those sympathetic to the causes we value. We too often confuse the personal with the political, causing us to become too dogmatic for our own good. Just because something is disagreeable does not mean it should be prohibited. We must learn to extend our tolerance to others, even when there are legitimate differences of opinion. This pull towards collectivism also plagues the country’s political conversation, but that is a discussion for another day.