Combat

Comedy, College, and the Fight to Save Free Speech: Can We Take a Joke?

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's Greg Lukianoff

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According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of millennials believe it would be appropriate for the government to restrict speech that offends minority groups. This mindset is manifesting itself on college campuses across the country, from the disinvitation of controversial speakers to top comedians refusing to perform at universities.

"For the overwhelming majority of my career what I've been fighting is administration overreach," says Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which advocates for individual liberty in academia. "During that entire time the single constituency on campus that seemed to have the most common sense and seemed to understand free speech and due process the best was always the students. And somewhere, two or three years ago, it just kind of changed."

Lukianoff, who co-wrote a well-received article for The Atlantic titled The Coddling of the American Mind, believes the problem may stem from a lack of understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment.

"Freedom of speech is really a sophisticated concept," says Lukianoff. "We are so used to it in America that we sometimes forget just how sophisticated it is. Meanwhile if you have a K-12 environment or a parental environment when people are explaining that free speech is just the argument the bully, the bigot, and the robber baron make—that is morally persuasive. And if no one has ever explained to you otherwise, of course you are going to think that free speech is the mean person's argument."

To that end, FIRE partnered with director (and former Reason TV producer) Ted Balaker to produce Can We Take a Joke?, a documentary about the intersection of comedy, campus censorship, and outrage culture. The film, which was recently picked up by Samuel Goldwyn Films and is set for release this summer, includes interviews with Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette, Lisa Lampanelli, Adam Carolla, Jim Norton, and others. FIRE and Young Americans for Liberty are sponsoring a week of preview screenings across college campuses starting April 13.

"If we just got back to an idea that it's important to hear opposing points of view, it's important to give the benefit of the doubt, and if you're intellectual you should consider it a duty to seek out smart people for whom you disagree, we can do a lot to combat this trend," says Lukianoff.

Approximately 7 minutes.

Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Joshua Swain. Edited by Bragg.

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  1. I bet that the film is protested at the campus screenings.

    1. They will need safe spaces with crayons and coloring books.

      1. They’ll probably puppies as well

        And definitely some counselors.

        1. No puppies allowed because they hump legs and that could trigger someone.

          1. I’ve always thought that was one of their more endearing qualities.

    2. You know it; I predict all kinds of trigger warnings, safe space allocations, and protests against these free speech meanines.

      1. Well, there certainly should be trigger warnings. A little bit of light humor is usually okay, but the idea that we’re somehow obliged to “take a joke” no matter how offensive it is, simply brings us back to the outrageous “First Amendment dissent” of a single liberal judge in America’s leading criminal “satire” case. See the documentation at:

        http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

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  4. Why is the subtext of this story on the front page ‘can we take a job’?

    Is that a joke?

    1. I think it is a typo. I had the same question.

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  6. During that entire time the single constituency on campus that seemed to have the most common sense and seemed to understand free speech and due process the best was always the students. And somewhere, two or three years ago, it just kind of changed.

    Social media gave the PC Nazis a new megaphone.

  7. “Freedom of speech is really a sophisticated concept,” says Lukianoff. “We are so used to it in America that we sometimes forget just how sophisticated it is. Meanwhile if you have a K-12 environment or a parental environment when people are explaining that free speech is just the argument the bully, the bigot, and the robber baron make?that is morally persuasive. And if no one has ever explained to you otherwise, of course you are going to think that free speech is the mean person’s argument.”

    I can’t tell if this is implicitly supporting conservative parenting or insultingly talking right past it.

    1. Confused by this as well, most of the calls for restrictions on speech seem to me to be coming from the left these days and not conservatives who are more likely (usually) to give a robust support for the First Amendment.

      1. It only seems like this because you associate with people who identify as Conservative and strongly believe in the First Amendment. Most Liberals believe the same thing. When it comes to civil rights, except for maybe the 2nd Amendment (and to lesser extent than most people believe), Right and Left don’t matter.

        Try this. Ask 10 Republicans, who are not friends, and preferably not academics: a) “What do you think of the ACLU?” b) “Should burning the American Flag be legal?” and c) “Should science teachers be required to teach Intelligent Design?”

        Just for good measure, ask them, a) “Should the US ban Sharia Law?” and b) “Should the Bible influence American Law?”

        Now ask a few Democrats.

        1. Well I’m a Conservative, so I’ll answer these questions.

          Try this. Ask 10 Republicans, who are not friends, and preferably not academics: a) “What do you think of the ACLU?” b) “Should burning the American Flag be legal?” and c) “Should science teachers be required to teach Intelligent Design?”

          a) Well I’m always in favor of more Liberty, not less.
          b) Yes
          c) Intelligent Design isn’t science, so no.

          Just for good measure, ask them, a) “Should the US ban Sharia Law?” and b) “Should the Bible influence American Law?”

          a) At the very least Sharia ought never be formally recognized as a legitimate legal system.
          b) No

          1. You’re on a libertarian website. I’m talking about the larger number of Republicans who support people like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, the socially conservative and authoritarian douchebags. I know a lot of Republicans who give the opposite answers, esp. my boss.

            The Libertarian Party may identify as Conservative, but there is an Authoritarian-Libertarian axis to politics that runs perpendicular to the Liberal-Conservative axis. There are just as many Progressives/Liberals at each end (where did Pot Legalization and Gay Marriage Start?) as there are Conservatives, but the main two parties aren’t too fond of libertarian thinking, except on fund-raising issues like the 2nd Amendment and Abortion.

  8. The poll results out of Germany are bad.

  9. I am a libertarian, a minority political group. Socialism offends me. Therefore pro-socialist speech should be…???

    1. “Therefore pro-socialist speech should be…???”

      It should be offensive. More than enough reason to ignore it.

  10. “40 percent of millennials believe it would be appropriate for the government to restrict speech that offends minority groups.”

    If you had said “elementary school children” instead of “millennials,” this statistic wouldn’t be quite so depressing. But you did. And it is.

    1. When you raise kids in a kibbutz of safe spaces, this is what you get. As with most things, it starts out with good intentions [anti bullying, sensitivity, etc.] but ends of down the road to hell [PC authoritarianism and intolerance].

      1. “down the road to hell”

        You are exaggerating. School is not hell for most students. The students attend in numbers greater than ever before and attend voluntarily. If you find school is hell, you can quit any time and save your money.

  11. If politics is downstream of culture the millenials are preparing a massive release of untreated sewage into the drinking water supply.

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  18. RE: Comedy, College, and the Fight to Save Free Speech: Can We Take a Joke?

    A joke is only funny if the ruling elitist turds thinks it’s funny.
    Then you can laugh.
    This is the New Free Speech.
    Isn’t it wonderful?

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