October 11, 2017

JEONG | Why We Must Protect the Hateful

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I came to college a Bernie-loving, John Oliver-watching, 420-friendly, devout liberal. My political awakening began in sixth grade when I read then-Senator Barack Obama’s autobiographies. To a minority kid interested in politics, his words were gospel to me. I was vehemently pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and if anybody were to disagree with me, they were ignorant, minority-hating bigots. In an era in which politics has been defined by Trumpism, liberals have rallied under a common villain — a catch-all caricature that represents the evil of the right. However, it is time that we approach the state of political discourse with more attention to nuance.

The current progressive social platform is one of ubiquitous acceptance — we accept gay marriage, abortions, transgender rights, and drug addicts, and we demand equal rights for people of all races, genders and creeds. However, the one group of people we refuse to accept is those who refuse to believe what we believe in. Despite promoting a political platform that embraces unequivocal empathy for the marginalized fringes of society, liberals rarely show such compassion for their conservative counterparts. We protest conservative speakers that come on campus and silence classmates who may think that it isn’t prudent to close down Guantanamo Bay.

This brings forth larger questions on how far we as a society should accept intolerance. The 20th century thinker Karl Popper argued that a society that embraces unqualified tolerance to all factions will be overtaken by the intolerant. Therefore, to establish a truly tolerant status quo, society has to be vehemently intolerant of intolerance. In this line of reasoning, we must eschew and destroy all the gay-hating, Trump-supporting white supremacists. If that is the goal, Cornell has been doing a wonderful job; however, when it comes to defending our mission for “Any Person, Any Study,” we fail to extend such care.

But the truth is rarely so one-dimensional. Hate and tolerance are in the eye of the beholder, and while most of us at Cornell acknowledge that Trump is a racist pseudo-fascist who looks like he bathes in a pool of Cheetos, we often fail to offer more than an emotional response as to why our opponents are wrong. We are entrenched in our conviction that they are bad, and that we stand for good.

Especially on college campuses like Cornell’s, where the truth has a liberal accent, we must exercise caution before we wholeheartedly denounce any deviation from the status quo. After the racially-charged Collegetown incident a few weeks ago, the Student Assembly motioned to ban “hate speech” on campus. Similarly, the GPSA passed a resolution last week condemning hate speech. Though this move is a symbol of progress, it has dangerous implications that will trickle down through every fiber of our campus’s culture.

When we, as a university, elect to ban “hate speech,” we are in essence both depriving one’s ability to think or speak outside of the status quo and instituting a system of university-enforced censorship. I should be clear here — there is a legal delineation between “hate speech” and “fighting words,” words that “tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” Such words have no place on a college campus, where students’ physical safety is paramount. However, such treatment should not be extended to what we categorize under the term “hate speech.” As someone who has been called a whiny, yellow college student who has done nothing for this country in The Sun’s comment section, I understand that the effects of hate speech are both personal and infuriating. However, one could argue that I was spewing hate speech when speaking out against a white supremacist America. Therefore, for the sake of true liberal values and progress, we must drop our current stance of moral objectivity and accept the reality, if not validity, of our opponents. Hate speech is usually hurtful, ignorant and deplorable, but it is necessary to protect a culture of openness and tradition of free speech. We mustn’t silence those who disagree with us, but instead speak louder, march faster and fight with greater fervor.


Jason Jeong is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at jj345@cornell.edu. Jeongism appears alternate Wednesdays this semester. 

  • Skeptical Citizen ’19

    These are incredibly true and wellspoken words. Like the author, I once subscribed unequivocally to progressive platform points and moral objectivity. As I came to experience the intolerance by even further left-wing ideological peers of mine, I felt this very intolerance that Jeong speaks of. While my peers were trying to persuade me to become even more liberal, they ended up driving me in the other direction.

    • Arafat

      Bravo! This happened to me too.

      While Bernie Sanders was campaigning he was welcomed and listened to without interruption at the Evangelical Liberty University.

      Meanwhile when he was campaigning in the Pacific Northwest, BLM members physically pushed him off stage.

      On a weekly basis conservative speakers are shouted down at universities while liberals pretend they care about free speech. If they cared about free speech then they would be like the Evangelicals and listen to the opposing side and THEN challenge the speaker with questions and information which is contradictory.

      It’s little wonder the Left lost 1,000 seats under Obama. Open, intelligent and intuitive people see who the real close-minded and hateful people really are. We are tired of the Hollywood elites raping women, consuming fossil fuels while lecturing us on our shortcomings.

      Meanwhile Obama has bought two ten million dollar homes since leaving office, Bill and Hillary have done that and more and people like Jason naively believe the Left is valiantly working for them.

      • Arafat

        Note: I am not an Evangelical Christian but use them as an example of how even the far right respects free speech far more than those on the Left, and that by the Left I do not mean Antifa I mean everyday college students who refuse to let people like Charles Murray, Ayaan Ali Hirsi or Pamela Geller speak.

  • Randy_Wayne

    You wrote, “When we, as a university, elect to ban “hate speech,” we are in essence both depriving one’s ability to think or speak outside of the status quo and instituting a system of university-enforced censorship.” This is so correct–I believe that the university currently at risk of producing fodder rather than thinkers.

  • mjp294

    Actually the N-Word is bad…….sorry

    • Jay Wind

      Why is the N-word any more hateful than “white privilege”, “Black Holocaust”, and other hate-packed loaded phrases used by the BSU? All of them indicate bias and closed-mindedness.

    • Reality Check

      Let’s all recognize that “nigger” was the title of the successful 1964 autobiography of a brave and path-breaking black man, Dick Gregory. The N-word bowdlerization is inappropriate in a publication that has no apparent qualms about rough wording in other contexts.

  • Concerned Shoeowner

    can i have my shoes back please?

  • Arielle J.

    I think that the key lies in carefully defining “hate speech”. There is a distinction between political speech (eg “immigration has negative effects on the US”) that should not be silenced, and racial slurs. Racial slurs do not, and cannot, represent a legitimate opinion, political or otherwise, and are used only to convey hate and sow fear.

    • Man with Axe

      Racial slurs, if directed at a particular person, would fit the definition of fighting words. But the same slurs if used in speech not directed at anyone in particular would be protected speech, no matter how upset it makes some people to hear it.

      • Arielle J.

        You’re wrong. Racial slurs are always directed at a specific community, even if they’re not addressed to one individual, in a way that is intentionally harmful.

        • Man with Axe

          That doesn’t make me wrong. The fact that someone’s speech is harmful does not make it unprotected. The point is that insulting speech is constitutionally protected unless it is directed at specific individuals. So, if a white supremacist were to say or to write, “This country would be better off if all the n—-ers were shipped back to Africa,” that speech would be protected. Similarly, if a black person were to say or write, “All white people are racists,” that would also be protected.

          The key point that so many do not seem to get is that speech can be extremely hateful and harmful and yet protected by the constitution. That does not mean anyone has to like it, but the government is powerless to punish it or prevent it.

  • Man with Axe

    The main thrust of your article is very good. The reason that “hate speech” is not a recognized legal category is because if conservatives got to decide what it meant progressives wouldn’t like it, and vice-versa. Whoever was in power would be able to silence everyone else. You wouldn’t be allowed to make claims about white supremacy, for example. That’s hateful as far as I’m concerned.

    But I would caution you to look more closely at the idea that progressive ideas are all true, and that conservatives deserve “compassion” for being so misguided. How likely it is that half the population is just wrong about everything? Must it be true that abortion on demand is a moral necessity? Is the transgender agenda necessarily good for the country? Must every baker and florist serve gay weddings or the sky will fall? Is raising the minimum wage and being against school vouchers and wanting to ban guns and the rest of the progressive agenda all obviously true, and the conservatives are mentally defective or morally corrupt for thinking otherwise?

    I’m not saying the progressive side of any of these arguments is wrong. I am saying that it is closed minded to believe that at age 21 or so one has figured out all of life’s complicated conundrums. What is most troubling, and on this point you are most assuredly on the correct side, it is not only closed minded but also cowardly to want to silence the people who might know something you don’t.

  • Jay Wind

    “Freedom of speech” means no regulation of speech by content. It rests at the core of Academic Freedom and freedom of religion. The Campus Code of Conduct already covers threats and inciting but carefully excludes infringements of freedom of speech. There is no need to modify the current Campus Code of Conduct.

    There is no way to define “hate speech” successfully. For example, if you define “hate speech” as “speech which manifests contempt for someone on the basis of race”, then you make most of the public statements of the BSU a violation of the Campus Code of Conduct because they evidence contempt of white people. If you define “hate speech” in terms of its impact on the listener, then most of the LAL and BSU public statements have caused me to experience shock and dismay. We can pass a rule that would bar all chanting near dorms, but that would have to be content neutral – it would apply equally to “Build the Wall” and “Protect DACA.”

    The fundamental flaw in an otherwise excellent column is the assumption that a “speech code” would be implemented and enforced based on whatever the current popular views of the students and faculty. In fact, the people who pay the bills, ultimately call the shots — the New York State legislature, the Board of Trustees, the alumni, particularly donors, have more say on any possible venture into “speech codes” than would “liberals” on campus. The Henderson Law specifically requires the Board of Trustees (and not some delegated person or body) to adopt Rules for Maintenance of Public Order. Fortunately, for decades the Trustees have recognized freedom of speech and academic freedom. But if students and faculty beg the Trustees to throw away those important protections, Cornell will not get a weapon for “liberals” to punish “conservatives.” Rather, the campus will weaponize speech and kill off civil debate.