Free Speech

"These Days … It Is Safest to Be Circumspect and Cautious"

"To survive as a ... professor requires constant self-censorship and compromise, especially in the humanities .... Resistance comes at a cost .... [H]er colleague ..., a law professor, was interrogated and suspended from teaching after publishing a series of essays critical of ...."


That's in China, of course; see this article in today's L.A. Times (Alice Su) (seemingly unpaywalled, or only light paywalled, here). An excerpt:

The professor [Sun Piedong of Fudan University] was under surveillance. Cameras taped her every lecture…. She knew she had to be careful when she taught on one of China's most sensitive and dangerous topics: the Cultural Revolution….

Then the students turned her in….

Tsinghua University sociologist Guo Yuhua …, 64, was one of the only Tsinghua scholars who spoke in [defense of law professor Xu Zhangrun, who had been suspended for essays critical of President Xi]. She has also been reprimanded by the university's party officials and blocked from social media….

"I am afraid," she said. Colleagues and friends had told her to stop speaking. You'll only hurt yourself, they said. But she didn't want to give in….

"All people face risk," Guo said. "If we think, 'I'll just give up one step,' then everyone gives up a step, then another—and in the end we have no space at all. The ceiling presses straight to the floor."

Deep-rooted pragmatism runs through Chinese society, Guo said, the product of enduring thousands of years of authoritarianism….. "Chinese commoners … suffer, they bear with it, they endure," Guo said. "They put life above dignity…." …

"If you won't even let us tell the truth and we just follow you, singing songs and speaking lies, then we are not scholars, we are not academics, this is not sociology," she said. "What's the point?" …

"[W]hat the party wants," Sun said[, is] either praise or silence.

When I face the occasional blowback for some of the things I've said or written, and feel the impulse towards stepping back in the name of pragmatism, I think about what Profs. Guo and Sun and the other dissenters I've learned about all my life (including from the Soviet Union, where I'm from) have had to face. It puts things in proper perspective.

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  1. I somehow doubt the American Taliban cultural and social justice warriors understand whose footsteps they are following in.

    1. “It puts things in proper perspective.”

      Not everyone gets it…

    2. OR that the rights they destroy won’t be there to protect them…

      1. Yes, free speach is chilled, beyond even the academy.

        1. Don’t be a shanda for the shvarts goyim.

  2. These things go in cycles. The last was in the early 90’s. At the time, someone pointed out that academia, traditionally the place for the exchange of ideas, was now the most restrictive environment for any kind of free thought.

    1. Academia never got better….

    2. I’m not sure this is a cycle…Cancel culture 1.0 ended because the courts struck down the early speech codes, not because censorship became intellectually unfashionable.

      1. Censorship has always been intellectually fashionable on the left, they just pretend otherwise when they don’t expect to get to be the censors.

        1. Right, and there was no red scare during which anyone not deemed suitably loyal was at risk of financial ruin if not worse.

          Which doesn’t justify it. It’s wrong when the left does it and it’s wrong when the right does it. But please stop pretending it’s on one side.

          1. Alan Bloom addressed that in _The Closing of the American Mind_.

          2. I didn’t say the right never indulged in it, I said the left never really objected to it, pretended to only because they expected the right to be the censors.

            The ACLU was founded by literal communists, who saw a principled defense of freedom of speech as more likely to successfully defend their own freedom of speech, than a more openly self interested appeal. Yet, you need only look at everywhere communists get power to know that they didn’t actually value freedom of speech in general, only their own. And you see what has become of the ACLU’s principle once they realized the tables had turned. Suddenly freedom of speech isn’t important to them anymore, and they purged those members of the leadership who’d taken the commitment seriously.

            The right’s commitment to freedom of speech wasn’t all that great, but it has been reinforced by their realization that they aren’t in the censor’s seat anymore. The left’s commitment to freedom of speech was always just a mask.

            The big difference between right and left? WWII resulted in the right having to purge their extremists, while our alliance of convenience with the USSR allowed the left to refrain from that. So it was much easier for the left to lapse back into their worst impulses.

            And where the right trends authoritarian, the left trends totalitarian.

            1. The left’s commitment to freedom of speech was always just a mask.

              The Bellmore Principle at work again. Anyone Brett disagrees with is operating in bad faith.

              I don’t think you have a hope of understanding people who disagree with you, so long as you’re committed to a Manichean worldview in which everybody who disagrees with you does so from horrific motives.

            2. Brett, that’s just nonsense. The pendulum has swung back and forth so many times on who is censoring and who is being censored that it’s just ridiculous to claim either side as being angels.

              Like I said, censorship is wrong no matter who does it. And claiming either side has a great record on it is just laughable.

              1. I’m not finding where I said that. Neither the left nor the traditional, (As opposed to libertarian.) right have a great record on free speech, but they aren’t mirror images, either.

                Basically, the right wants your obedience on a limited range of subjects, and the left wants all of you, body, heart, and mind. That’s a big difference.

                1. The left wants all of you, body, heart and mind. Right. That explains why it’s the left that wants people free to marry whom they choose even if it’s a person of the same sex, or to be able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. It explains why the left wants to end the war on drugs and the right opposes it. Or why, back in the days before technology made it impossible, the right wanted to ban pornography.

                  Your position on this issue is complete nonsense.

    3. Do you think most workplaces allow more free speech than academia? That strikes me as quite dubious.

      1. Sure, because your average workplace cares what you say on the job, to the degree it interferes with your work. Academia cares what you say ANYWHERE.

        1. All workplaces object to speech that might hurt the brand. And most workplaces are ‘at will.’

          1. This is true… but nearly all private sector jobs do not have committees of gatekeepers who try to enforce ideological hegemony starting in the hiring process. Private sector at least waits until you use your speech in a way that harms the brand before coming for you. Even that means that in most areas of your life you have little to fear of your employer on that front. But in academia it is a 24/7 job to watch what you say… even when what you say is contractually allowable and factually true… those two qualities do not serve as adequate defense against groupthinkers.

          2. All workplaces object to speech that might hurt the brand. And most workplaces are ‘at will.’

            Which is fine if you are in the habit of running around saying, “I work for Amazon or Facebook and they are a terrible corporation!” but when busibodies dig out your company to get you fired when you had never brought it up?

            I am not sure who is the bigger butthole in that situation.

            1. And yes for thousands of years the shoe was on the other foot. Nobody learned the lesson of live and let live.

  3. As a sociologist, Guo said, her job was to tell the truth

    Whoops! No job for you as a sociologist in the West.

    1. What do you know about sociology?

  4. The proper perspective in this case being, “Things aren’t that bad here…. yet.” There’s an excellent chance they will be in the near future.

    1. Yeah, maybe a future administration will suppress a peaceful protest so the president can have a photo op. That would suck.

          1. Delusional, that’s what you are.

            Or just lying. I’m not sure which.

            1. Was the protest in question violent?

              1. The situation became violent when Trump and Barr sent their goons after the protesters. The Washington Post published a masterful reconstruction.

                1. Because the Washington Post is so unbiased, right?

                  1. These are your peeps, Conspirators.

                    This is why you lose.

                  2. I’m willing to be it’s probably relatively unbiased compared to wherever you get your news.

            2. Brett,

              The protest in question was peaceful. There is no evidence that the protestors were being violent, or even disorderly, in any way.

              Yeah, they reacted, mostly by running, when Barr had his goons use tear gas, so Trump could have his photo op. Bluntly, this was the act of a henchman of a would-be dictator.

              So fuck off.

              1. Lol. Bernard, please. This was a violent mob throwing bricks, rocks, bottles at police, and had stashes of baseball bats and metal poles. The night before they were doing the same and throwing fireworks at police, and also BURNING DOWN A CHURCH.

                Honestly, some of you must both willfully brainwash yourselves and lie brazenly. The media can’t be fooling anyone, they contradict themselves continually. Their nonsense only exists because of the number of folks desperate and eager to lap it up.

                1. You do realize there is video of this completely peaceful protest? What happened the night before is irrelevant.

                  1. Also, no church was burned down.

      1. Burning churches is “peaceful”?!?

        1. Who was burning churches?

          1. The “peaceful” rioters. Pay attention dude.

            1. One failed attempt, a day before the protest in question here.

              Stop lying.

              1. Oh, it failed, I guess that makes it alright. It’s not really arson if somebody puts the fire out in time.

                1. “. . . a day before. . . .”

                  Please try to keep up.

                  1. Yes, the day before, and then they came back.

                    1. You have no idea who came back.

                      Quit spinning fiction.

          2. Here you go, Bernard. St. John’s Church of the Photo Op was set on fire the night before by rioters.

            Fire set at St. John’s church in D.C. during protests of George Floyd’s death – The Washington Post

            A fire was set in the basement nursery of historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, across Lafayette Square from the White House, during demonstrations Sunday night expressing outrage at the death of George Floyd in police custody.

            Although the protests were largely peaceful in the afternoon and evening, small groups of people began setting fires and smashing windows once darkness fell.

            Shortly after 10 p.m., someone tore down the American flag that hangs outside the butter-yellow church and appeared to toss the flag into a nearby fire. A glass door or window was shattered.

            D.C. police said a small fire was deliberately set in the basement. Under police escort, D.C. firefighters quickly extinguished it.

      2. This is Washington DC. For many of the public venues, you can’t have a rally or public event without a permit. If you try, the police will remove you. Many groups take advantage of this law/rule by scheduling events/rallies at specific venues in order to prevent other groups for holding rallies. It sucks, but it happens.
        So if you are in DC and you are holding a rally/protest/gathering without a permit, if you are given an order by the police/authorities to disperse, and if you don’t disperse, you should not be surprised if the police/authorities start using force.

        1. Having a shall-issue permitting process in place doesn’t mean the government cannot be criticized for using force to disperse a peaceful protest to give the President a photo-op, that said government

          1. If you have the slightest grasp of how curfews work, you would not be surprised if, when the curfew is a half hour away, and you ignore the order to disperse, you face enforcement. You’re supposed to be gone by the time the curfew arrives, not start leaving when it arrives.

            1. Brett, this wasn’t about the curfew. That wasn’t even the rationalization at the time.

              You know this. Which is why you’re throwing ten kinds of crap against the wall to see what sticks.

              None of it will. Because everyone knows what this was. And it’s not going away.

    2. There’s an excellent chance once Trump is out of office soon or in 4 years that it will die down quite a bit. “All serves to remove Trump” remains a solid theory with tremendous explanatory and, more importantly, predictive power.

      1. Do you think Ferguson was a thing to get Obama out of office? Not everything is a liberal plot; you sound like Brett.

        Alternatively, having someone in the office who tweets out people saying white power puts people of all ideologies on edge.

  5. Well gees in another comment section I suggested we should actually label the left wingers by their prompter title – far left wing socialist agitators. This shows a lot of the tactics used by our own left wing socialist agitators are also being used in China. If Trump did something that mimicked Putin the media would be all over it. But in this case nothing.

    1. Jimmy,
      Lenin had a term for this current crop, “infantile leftists.” They are useful to the party in being a spearhead to be blunted in attacks against the established order.
      Once the establishment has been driven out of power the infantile left can be systematically eliminated and the true dictatorship of the proletariat will have been established.

    2. Yet Marxian professors abound, wagging their fingers at everyone to their right as neo-Nazis.

  6. Always great to consider musings on freedom of expression from a blog that engages in content-driven censorship.

    (Artie Ray Lee Wayne Jim-Bob Kirkland says ‘hi,’ everyone. But he doesn’t say “sl@ck-j@w#d’ or ‘cop su<<or' because he knows those words, like Artie Ray, have been banned by the Volokh Conspiracy's Board of Censors.)

    1. Thank you for polluting this forum, once again.

    2. He could start his own blog instead of mooching off the popularity of reason and Volokh. I’m sure it would be a big hit!

      1. Popularity? How many movement conservatives are teachers or students at strong law schools? The Conspirators mooch off the reputations of strong liberal-libertarian schools; they know what they are doing by choosing not to teach at conservative-controlled schools, which tend to be low-ranked clinger farms.

        Your tolerance of conservative censorship is noted, and disdained.

        1. The tenured radicals won 30 years ago and are living off past laurels.

    3. There’s no conflict between freedom of expression and a blogger moderating his comment section by whatever criteria he chooses.

      1. No conflict, but plenty of blowhard hypocrisy.

        1. No conflict, but plenty of blowhard hypocrisy.

          And that’s coming from the preeminent authority on being a blowhard.

    4. Try posing certain words on the Washington Post comments section, assuming they even allow comments on that article.

  7. Doesn’t this demonization of China create a hostile leaning environment for Chinese students?

    1. Professors in US universities who point out professors in China are fired or jailed should be fired.

    2. It’s definitely racist by contemporary standards of racism.

      Which is any criticism of anyone who isn’t a white normal male is intolerable racist hate speech violence.

    3. “…this demonization of China…”
      More like “demonization” of Communists.

  8. Fortunately, the US Government doesn’t need to directly censor its citizens, as does China. Our government favored corporations are doing the job just fine. The latest Drudgery heads in a row:

    L’OREAL vows to remove ‘whitening’ from skin products…
    COCA-COLA stops on all platforms…
    FACEBOOK Tightens Controls as Boycott Grows…
    Zuckerberg Loses $7 Billion…

    “1984” has finally arrived, 72 years late. Be careful but stay true and brave, or we won’t like ourselves. Our social justice “betters” with their ever-moving targets and their manipulators already don’t like us. Let us never agree with them on that score!

    1. It’s pretty unremarkable for corporations to ‘mange’ their image. This is really quite far from ‘1984’ which is where a one party authoritarian government relies on extra-legal force to suppress speech. The entire point of Volokh’s OP was about this hyperbole-busting ‘perspective’ on things.

      1. It is quite remarkable for corporations to boycott other corporations over speech and to create a rarified atmosphere of hot-house flower delicacy over “scary” and “hateful” free expression, except for theirs. During the second world war, sure, there was incredible pressure not to speak up contrarily, ostensibly on patriotic and security grounds, but now?

        And who do you think is funding and/ or looking the other way, as Antifa and other organizations “extra-legally” throw bricks, real and otherwise, at targets on their disapproval lists? There has been very little pushback by the media and authorities.

        1. Are you kidding? Corporations have long and continue to be incredibly pre-occupied with their ‘brand’ and tend to not countenance any employee speech that they think is counter to their management of it. Corporations often drop working with other corporations because of speech related controversies. During the 50’s god help you if your employer corporation thought you were engaged in Communist friendly speech. During Vietnam god help you if your employer corporation thought you were taking a controversial take on the conflict, the draft, or other related topics. Heck, if a show like the Smother’s Brothers was deemed to be doing that advertisers would pull their money and dissassociate with the broadcaster. Look at what happened to the Dixie Chicks re: country radio stations or ESPN recently with Hill.

          This should actually be a common sense conclusion not hard to reach. For all its faults re: occupational cultural bias, academia at least has mechanisms providing speech protections often in place (tenure, union contracts, etc.,) that other fields lack. Of course workers in these other fields are much more vulnerable. Here’s a thought test: any academic and any non-academic professional, let them go onto social media and criticize their employer. Who do you think is going to get fired more? It’s not even close…

          1. You like the word “brand.”

            I left out the 50s commie scare, because social justice warriors think such boycotting of “other-thinking” individuals (can’t cite whole corporations boycotting en masse other corporations then, can you?) is a dark chapter of our history. And, yet, you cite it as an accepted precedent for corporations boycotting corporations over un PC speech.

            Just recently, we’re experiencing an even darker chapter, as whole swaths of corporate America are genuflecting like Pelosi et al. and putting their dollars to censorship. It’s of a piece. CEO Zuckerberg wants to look “forced” to comply with social justice NewSpeak, as a matter of caring for his shareholders, when really FB has been in the vanguard of enforcing it, all along. Now it can go all in.

            As for the rest, your strawmen are static on the screen.

            1. Btw, Nam war protesters, Smothers Brothers, and the once Dixie Chicks do not constitute major corporations.

              Opprobrium cast upon individuals and groups has always been, for either justified or corrupt reasons. Today we’re seeing sudden major corporate on corporate boycotting/bullying and compliance on a weird, and I would say premeditated and unprecedented, scale. And, yes, size counts.

              China’s government enforces Correct Think, an end with which our cyber tech giants cooperate. And, now, US corporations (to include nearly all media) are nakedly doing the same, and to each other, in order to censor grassroots real speech in a cabalistic way. They intend to only allow expression that is arbitrated and filtered by them, while giving themselves, each other, and our government cover for the monolithic and autocratic shift to PC managed speech.

              Soon, persona non grata status conferred by the tweeting bird and FB will be a badge of honor, courage, and one’s honest truth.

            2. I don’t like the word nearly as much as corporations do.

              Can you cite examples in our history of corporations being fine with speech of their employees they thought harmful to their brand and/or pr approach?

              1. I have been clearly speaking of corporation to corporation boycotting pressuring/ bullying/ and colluding with one another over speech that will be allowed on their platforms.

                Or, do you consider the speech of those naive and honest people who think they have a right to a point of view and who chime in on the alleged public yet private platforms of FB, Twitter and the rest of social media to be employees?

                1. “to be [that] of employees”

        2. And who do you think is funding and/ or looking the other way/i>

          Let me guess. It’s George Soros. Right?

          Go back to peddling Pizzagate.

    2. ” “1984” has finally arrived, 72 years late. ”

      Tell us more about the 2050s! What are America’s most successful companies? Who has been winning the World Series, Super Bowl, and Kentucky Derby lately? Does the Republican Party still exist? Are the Stones still touring, and do you like Keith Richards’ new album?

      Thank you.

      1. 1948 + 72 = 2020.

        1. What occurred in 1948?

          1. Conception.

          2. A dying Eric Blair was finishing up his novel, ‘1984’.

            1. Absarika, conception completed, then.

          3. “What occurred in 1948?”

            Why am I not surprised???

            1. Because you do not know that the book was published in 1949?

  9. State of US higher ed for conservatives: it could be worse.

    It will be.

  10. I’d love to say that it is brave for a tenured professor to speak his mind at a US institution, but is it really? Will you lose your job and be jailed or exiled, together with your family, for your beliefs? Will you be branded as a pariah by the government of your country and forced to beg for food?

    For the most part, tenure is a selection criterion for sheep mentality. You don’t get tenure by advancing the vanguard of human knowledge in a risky direction; you get it by getting along with your colleagues, following the accepted norms, and being a safe team player. Is it surprising that we agonize over such simple questions as whether we should say what we think in an otherwise free society?

    1. Almost no other field has something like tenure, the speech protections are *lower* for these.

    2. “I’d love to say that it is brave for a tenured professor to speak his mind at a US institution, but is it really?


      I speak from experience here…

    3. Tenure isn’t enough to protect one from The Great Wokening.

  11. The reason they think the 1950s commie scare was a dark chapter of our history isn’t that it suppressed free expression, but that it suppressed commies and fellow travellers.

    1. Seamus, yes. The Venona cables in later years put truth to their lies, re Communist inflitration of the US government and society.

      Meanwhile, there are the anti-McCarthyism clingers who vilify “intolerant speakers” today, instead of advocating in favor of free speech. Irony had no bounds or decency.

  12. Curious. Is the NBA, along with high profile players, still supporting the Chinese Communist Party’s suppression of protests in Hong Kong? The “sin” of the Houston Rockets executive was to say he supported the protestors in Hong Kong. NBA players came out against verbal support for protestors in Hong Kong. This article puts into perspective the difference in freedoms allowed under a communist party

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