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Chris Rock & Free Speech on Campus

I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s very important to be sensitive to other people.

Words are real things.

They have an impact.

They can be used to tear someone down just as effectively as they can be used to build someone up.

We need to make sure we use the right words in the right way.

But at some point, does promoting the importance of sensitive speech turn into the suppression of free speech?

Hostility to Controversial Comedy

Last week, comedian Chris Rock did an interview with Frank Rich, in which he discussed his decision to stop doing shows on university campuses, due to an increasing hostility towards controversial creative expression. Robby Soave, writing at Reason.com, noted the following exchange: …

Rock: I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative.

Rich: In their political views?

Rock: Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say “the black kid over there.” No, it’s “the guy with the red shoes.” You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.

The bitter irony here is that the students are losing out.

Soave puts it this way:

Anyone who thinks that there are no consequences for trigger warnings, speech codes, free speech zones, crackdowns on taco night, or general feelings-protection at the modern American university should consider Rock’s comments. University administrators are teaching students that it is proper for them to crave insulation from contrarianism and controversy. The result is a kind of de facto censorship, where someone like Rock—a worthwhile speaker, whether one agrees with him or not—has little incentive to share his perspective.

Nobody Loses?

I think that Rock and Soave have made some very astute observations here.

Many institutions – chief among them schools, but also sports teams and youth organizations – do try to create an environment in which nobody is offended and nobody loses.

Yet…the proponents of that environment will often turn on anybody who is offended by and/or loses from their “nobody loses” policy!

I am concerned about what kind of life insurance consumers people who pass through these organizations will become.

Will they have developed a strong enough sense of responsibility to buy life insurance for their families, businesses, and estates?

Will they understand that their dependents – spouses, children, employees, charities – will lose out if they don’t step up and buy the coverage needed?

Or will they feel it is the job of “the powers that be” to make sure that nobody loses, and call for the government to take care of anybody and everybody for whom life insurance should have been bought, but wasn’t?