No Such Thing as Free Speech

What is discrimination? These days, pinning it down can be extremely subtle. In a recent column, economics professor Walter Williams describes a brochure distributed by George Mason University. The brochure defines discrimination as "jumping when a homosexual touches you on the arm." It can also include "keeping a physical distance from someone because they are a known gay or lesbian." This is insane. Campus administrators now want to prescribe exactly how high you may jump if someone startles you—how many inches you can stand from someone. I can just picture administrators running around with tape measures to unmask the guilty. Whatever happened to simple politeness and good manners? They're being replaced by political correctness. In a book called Postmodern Times, Gene Edward Veith explains that political correctness is a sign that society has lost its grip on truth. When people stop believing in a transcendent truth, then everything is reduced to personal opinion. Debates about ideas degenerate into power struggles between groups. After all, if there is no truth, then we cannot persuade one another by rational arguments. All that's left is power: Whoever has the most power imposes their opinions on everyone else. Lest you think I'm being cynical about this, let me assure you this is exactly what postmodernist thinkers themselves say. Stanley Fish, a professor at Duke University and the doyen of political correctness, recently wrote a book called There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too. Fish supports strict codes for regulating speech on university campuses. After all, he says, there's no such thing as free speech anyway. All speech is controlled by some set of principles, Fish argues. Before PC came along, college curricula were controlled by more conservative principles derived from traditional Western culture. The new speech codes merely substitute a new orthodoxy, Fish says—and what's wrong with that? In his own view, there are no objective standards to judge principles by anyway. Ultimately, all principles are merely personal preferences. Since that's the case, Fish says, debates over "truth" are really a power game. Principles are just tools for protecting your own turf, while restricting everyone else. As Fish writes, "Someone is always going to be restricted next, and it is your job to make sure that the someone is not you." What a frightening way to describe the world of ideas. Postmodernism denies the existence of transcendent truth—and as a result it reduces every truth claim to a power play. It's the perfect philosophy to justify any tyranny. Notice the startling irony here. As Christians we are often criticized for believing we have the only truth, the truth about the universe. That's so oppressive, so coercive, we're told. But now it's clear that the opposite is true: What really leads to tyranny is the loss of truth—because then there's nothing to restrain sheer power. Campus codes that prescribe how high you may jump are only the beginning. Tune in tomorrow, when I'll be giving even more frightening examples of the insidious growth of tyranny.


Chuck Colson


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