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.