There's a lot of virtual ink spilt these days about silencing conservative voices and the tyranny of a radical-feminist-postmodern-neomarxist-SJW conspiracy on campus. Apparently people like Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Milo Yiannopoulos, and other voices of the conservative elite aren't getting their fair chance to share their views. Yet, these individuals continue to speak out, to have platforms on university campuses, and (by all media accounts) to make a decent penny doing so. I'm willing to bet most people reading this recognize those names and have no trouble figuring out where they stand on the important issues of today.
The campus reality is different than what conservative elites claim. The people who are being silenced and threatened are far more likely to be progressives than conservative speakers. The people who run our campuses have their social roots in the boardrooms of major corporations: they are, in fact, often members themselves of the conservative elite. Take a real look at who actually makes the decisions on campuses.
Who is really being silenced on campus?
The evidence suggest the story is not as the conservative elite believes. Over the past few years we have seen vocal attacks on Sunera Thobani for her comments on US Imperialism, the wrongful withdrawal of a job offer to Steven Salaita for daring to compare the situation of Palestinians to the genocide perpetrated on Native Americans, to a myriad of little threats of litigation against outspoken faculty. There are many more who face the same targeting. What we see is that progressive faculty who criticize social inequality and oppression are the ones most often targeted.
The campaigns against individuals like Peterson, Shapiro, Yiannopoulus, involve mass movements, political mobilization, and public demonstrations. They engage wider publics in debate and discussion. The debates can at times be raucous, even intemperate, but they are discussions nonetheless that allow people to examine the arguments against them and for them. Rarely are such conservative voices silenced in any meaningful way. If anything, they are encouraged and supported to continue. Some even urge their follows to actually attack faculty they disagree with.
Attacks from the right, from the conservative elites, however, often deploy instruments of class rule - legal threats to economic wellbeing through litigation (which pulls a secrecy blanket over details and is expensive), threats of criminal investigation (as in Thobani's case), and challenges to a person's fitness for employment (as in Salaita's case). These are not tactics of engagement or discussion. These are the tactics of power being deployed to silence and create fear and anxiety. Alongside the formal tactics of silence is an accompanying storm of violent threats against individual faculty members.
These tactics shutdown debate. They quiet discussion. They are about maintaining social power in a few hands. There is nothing in the tactic of silencing that in any way encourages authentic democratic engagement. What we are witnessing is a descent into authoritarianism.
The only way to confront these tactics is through the longstanding tactic of mass action and solidarity. We need to honour the old slogan "an injury to one is an injury to all." In the face of the power of conservative elites the only way truth and justice will ever be achieved is by standing up to them.