The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I have a dog in this fight.

The University of Wyoming administration has banned a scheduled appearance by William Ayers, former Weather Underground leader. It has not said why, although it does admit to having received myriad threats of withdrawal of various measures of support if it allows him to speak on campus.

Read Wikipedia on Ayers.

The following is excerpted from Wikipedia:

Radical bomber Jane Alpert criticized Ayers in 1974 "for his callous treatment and abandonment of Diana Oughton before her death, and for his generally fickle and high-handed treatment of women."

In 2001, Ayers published a memoir, Fugitive Days, to mixed reviews. Timothy Noah's 2001 Slate Magazine review says he can't recall reading "a memoir quite so self-indulgent and morally clueless as Fugitive Days." By contrast, Studs Terkel called the book "a deeply moving elegy to all those young dreamers who tried to live decently in an indecent world."

Neoconservative education reformer Sol Stern is a longtime critic of Ayers; he has "studied Mr. Ayers's work for years and read most of his books." Stern has written critiques of Ayers's career as an education reformer for City Journal and elsewhere. His criticism in summary: "Calling Bill Ayers a school reformer is a bit like calling Joseph Stalin an agricultural reformer." "The media mainstreaming of a figure like Mr. Ayers could have terrible consequences for the country's politics and public schools."

Feminist critic Katha Pollitt sharply criticized Ayers' December 2008 New York Times opinion piece as a "sentimentalized, self-justifying whitewash of his role in the weirdo violent fringe of the 1960s-70s antiwar left." She castigates Ayers and his Weathermen cohorts for making "the antiwar movement look like the enemy of ordinary people" during the Vietnam War.
[There are numerous links for the references in the Wikipedia entry.]

I have no idea what Ayers has to say today. I doubt I'd agree with most of it.
But if he wants to say it, and people want to listen, give him a place at a university to say it. I am not in favor of paying him with taxpayer-extracted money (and I don't know if that was the plan at U WYO), although I am sure that universities pay speakers regularly to deliver messages the administration deems "safe."

I think it's the unsafe speech we need to hear, or at least to be able to hear if we want to. Ironically, it was exactly the speech-limiting atmosphere of the campuses in the '60s that led Ayers to blow shit up. We're not immune to that now, and we will see it again if we continue down the path of suppressing speech in this country.

We have nothing to fear from what folks have to say. We might have reason to fear what folks do when they can't speak or hear what others have to say.

8 comments:

Thad Wasson said...

If you ban Mr. Ayers you will make him seem more dangerous and mysterious than he is. Give him a platform and let the students judge.

larry kurtz said...

Maybe it's catching: http://helenair.com/news/article_dd848f7e-4785-11df-845b-001cc4c03286.html

Wayne Gilbert said...

I can't that U Dub is so stupid that they won't let that idiot speak.

Wayne Gilbert said...

I can't believe that U Dub etc. etc. Also, I can't believe the frequency with which I post incomplete sentences.

Bill Fleming said...

Wayne, my friend Scott Severson and I were comparing notes on our serious space outs the other day. He tells how he was putting toothpaste from the tube in his right hand onto another tube of toothpase in his left. I shared that I had actually puut toothpaste on my hairbrush in the morning, more than once.

These things happen with age, my brother. Not to worry. It's not dementia. I heard it on the radio the other day, but I forget which day and which program.

We just get caught up in our internal dialogue and... oh shit, I think just I left my car running...

Later man. BF

larry kurtz said...

Right. I'm going to fire my editor, too.
Just think how much more annoying it would be if Ellis and I began rolling literal grenades into the virtual world instead.

Bob Newland said...

Kurtz's posts are entertaining, I guess. I just wish I could understand them.

larry kurtz said...

Punch drunk from watching a sweet old woman watching a sweet old man die.

Promise I'll try harder, Bob; it might be a little while longer because freely associating is about all I can muster. Thanks for letting me do it here.