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The Dangerous Attack on Free Speech in American Society

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One of America’s greatest Sociologists, C. Wright Mills, said that it was a sociologist’s job to point out the absurdities within their societies. Currently, it seems like PETA’s equating “anti-animal language” with hate speech is a good example of absurdity in modern American society which needs to be pointed out. The animal rights activist group has recently taken to Twitter to propose a change in the way idioms are used in the Englush language. For instance, they propose that the saying “beat a dead horse” should be replaced by “feed a fed horse”, or that the saying “bring home the bacon” should be replaced by “bring home the bagels”. Normally, this kind of absurdity could be easily dismissed as far-left wing activism which has gone off the deep end; after all, one would think that the very absurdity of this would make it irrelevant.

 

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Image (Unfortunately) Courtesy Of: https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2018-12-05/peta-compares-anti-animal-language-to-hate-speech

 

Unfortunately, there is something far more insidious at work in this attack on language. As the literary theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak points out in her book “Nationalism and the Imagination”, language is intimately tied into conceptions of what the “nation” is. Spivak writes:

Language has a history; it is public before our births and will continue so after our deaths. (Spivak, 32).

The history of language is the history of the nation. It is something that roots the individual in the context of the nation and, at the same time, places the individual within a community beyond the “self”. As someone who is bilingual—as well as bi-cultural and a dual-national—I know better than many just how important language is. And it is idioms that are the most important; they say in only a few words things about cultures and nations that thousands of words cannot. And this is why any attack on words—in the name of resisting some sort of “cism” (racism, sexism, speciesism, and the like)—cannot be accepted.

 

Can any society truly accept this kind of censorship without contesting it? In the past, totalitarian regimes—like that of Nazi Germany—chose to burn books so as to destroy the old culture in hopes of creating a new one. Now, in the postmodern age—where, as Foucault and Elias point out, we have become repulsed by exhibitions of outright violence—we accept outright censorship in the form of political correctness in the name of “progressivism”. While books are not being physically burned, thoughts are still being silenced. And one cannot say certain terms lest they be slandered by the label of “racist”, “sexist”, or—even—“speciesist”.  Of course, this is absurd. Unfortunately, however, few are resisting this censorship of language.

 

In the workplace, this type of linguistic control has extended to the forceful use of “gender neutral pronouns” . Indeed, in the universities, “inclusive teaching” seeks to control educators’ language, and the University of Kansas has gone so far as to rationally—and technocratically—dictate what kind of pronouns educators should use. Any educator who is a true educator—that is one who stands for free speech and independent thought—should stand against this form of censorship and thought control. Unfortunately, I see few educators who are willing to take this risk. After all, in the postmodern era, the threat of symbolic violence—in the Bourdieuian sense—is all too real for many educators. Rather than risk tenure, educators are choosing to remain silent to the fundamental assault on free speech that political correctness is engaging in.

 

For those of us who still respect freedom of thought in the modern world, at least we have the football fans. Whether it is in the form of banners or choreographies, fans tend to make their voices heard. Even in the form of stickers—which some Besiktas fans affixed to a pole in Istanbul—fans are able to express their nationalism (in the form of an Ataturk sticker), their opposition to the E-Ticket scheme pushed by the state, as well as their own identity as “the peoples’ team”. Freedom of speech is something worth standing up for, and, in this regard, educators may have something to learn from football fans. After all, it is our language which plays a role in defining our cultures and—by extension—our lives. To ignore it would, in effect, mean ignoring our very lives.

 

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At least the Football Fans are Still Free. Image Courtesy of the Author.
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Football Vs. The Hyperreality: FC Basel and FC Young Boys Bern in Switzerland

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On 2 December 2018 FC Basel faced FC Young Boys Bern in the Swiss Super League, and both sets of fans put on a good display. It was a great example of why football is good in the stadium; sport offers a space for human expression in the real world.

 

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Emotion in Reality. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.ultras-tifo.net/photo-news/5501-basel-young-boys-02-12-2018.html

 

Indeed, the tifo put on by FC Basel’s fans shows just how much importance they put on the match day experience in the space of the stadium. The fact that this needs to be emphasized is, sadly, a sign of the times. This is because the first time these two teams met, on 28 September 2018, the focus was on protest. In the September match, the ultras of Young Boys Bern protested the growth of “eSports” by raining tennis balls and Playstation controllers onto the pitch while unfurling a giant banner of a “pause” button in the stands. While some commentators, like Jack Kenmare of Sportbible.com, could not understand why the Young Boys Ultras were protesting the growth of eSports, other commentators did a little more homework.

 

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Tennis Balls and Playstation Controllers are Emblematic of Protest in the Postmodern Age. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2018-09-24-swiss-football-fans-throw-controllers-on-the-pitch-in-esports-protest

 

Indeed, Forbes.com’s Steve McCaskill’s piece focused on the difficulty of “mixing eSports and sports”. Mr. McCaskill points out that, in this instance, the Young Boys’ Ultras were protesting the increased commercialization of football—a classic case, indeed, of industrial football. Mr. McCaskill goes on to point out that

 

FC Basel supporters have been especially vocal in their opposition to the plans, making their discontent about the club’s eSports operations well known. They believe the club’s resources should be devoted to football rather than the ‘brand’ […]

‘Many clubs in Switzerland’s first division now have an eSports player, but their fans are not protesting as often as Basel fans,’ adds [Oliver] Zesiger [a Swiss football scout]. ‘I think there’s a certain dissatisfaction among Basel-fans with their club being marketed as a product, rather than a football club. This doesn’t necessarily include only the “against modern football” crowd. Basel fans don’t want to be called clients for example’ […]

 

Here we clearly see that the FC Basel fans are making a very real point. Why divert resources from the reality of football—as seen and experienced on the pitch and in the stadium—in favor of the hyperreality of football—neither experienced or, truly, even seen—on a screen? Indeed, this is a valid question (and not to mention one that would have sounded absurd just a decade ago). The entire notion of trading football as it has been traditionally experienced for over a century for a digitized simulacrum of the game itself is, of course, a losing proposition. After all, eSports are—ostensibly—only as good as the players on the pitch, since the ratings of FIFA’s players are based on real-life performance….thus the two are intimately connected….right?

Unfortunately, it seems as if the modern world has become all-too accustomed to finding digital “solutions” to the real world. After all, Google seems to believe that if something is offensive, the solution is censorship (It is also something I have written about). I even know from my own experience with this very blog that—sometimes—traffic is actively diverted when the topics discussed diverge from the dominant narrative of progressive thought. This in and of itself is something worth thinking about. Regardless of if we are talking about sports, interpersonal relationships (online dating and Tinder, for instance), or even basic communication (social media), at what point does our reliance on technology start to mean trading reality for a hyperreality? While the social engineers might think that the hyperreality is preferable—since it eliminates the chances for irrational and emotional human behavior deviating from the expected “norms” generated by algorithms—the truth is that this will, inevitably, lead to an “iron cage of rationality” far more pervasive than any that Sociologist Max Weber could have conceived of.

March Madness: A Marginal Sociologist’s Note on Sports and Linguistic Censorship on Campus in the Postmodern Age

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As if watching my university unceremoniously bow out of the NCAA basketball tournament was not punishment enough, I had to endure a battle with my ideological colleagues at the same time. It was certainly March Madness in more ways than one. As we watched our university throw away their championship hopes, the conversation turned to our day jobs and a topic I am very concerned with: political correctness and the ongoing loss of free speech in the United States.

I mentioned a professor from our department who told me that a journal once criticized him for using the word “seminal” in an article; since the word referred to “semen” it was, therefore, a masculine word and thus off-limits. I was appalled that, for instance, writing the sentence “Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is a seminal work in sociological thought” could ever be grounds for censure. Unfortunately, the Brave New World of postmodern identity politics loathes free speech. Indeed, the brown-shirts of “progressive” ideology will be the first to tar and feather any who step out of line. Simply put, if you do not want to be labeled as a “racist”, a “sexist”, or some other “’cist”, you might not want to raise your ugly head in modern academia by going against the dominant strains of one dimensional thought. I know the punishment one will face because I live it every day.

In my conversation with colleagues, I recalled out loud a graduate seminar from a few months back where the professor explained to us that the word “penetrate” should be avoided because—like “seminal”—it has a masculine connotation. Shockingly, my colleagues seemed to agree with this assessment of “penetrate”. They told me that “penetrate” was a “sexist word”, and shouldn’t be used. I informed them that “penetrate” is certainly not a sexist word. At that, one colleague told me “well, it comes from ‘penis’”. At that I had to ask—was my colleague now a linguist? I thought we were studying Sociology! Unfortunately, my colleague had clearly not taken four years of Latin in high school; “penetrate” comes from the Latin “penetratus” and related to “penitro” meaning “to place within” (see https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/penetrate and http://www.dictionary.com/browse/penetrate ). Indeed, the word “penetrate” has nothing to do with “penis” but, I guess, it is my colleagues who have their minds in the gutter.

 

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Its Not the Word Origin. Imags From: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/penetrate (Top) and https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/penetrate (Bottom)

 

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The Cambridge Dictionary Seems to Have No Qualms With Using Penetrate Alongside Female Pronouns. Image From: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/penetrate

 

As if to prove my point, the announcers on the television in front of us lamented the failure our team’s offense: “they just cannot penetrate the paint” was a familiar refrain. Indeed one of the main tactics in basketball is to “penetrate the paint” in order to get as close as possible to the basket so as to have an opportunity for a high percentage shot.

 

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A Diagram Of How To Penetrate the Paint in Basketball. Image From: https://www.google.com/search?q=penetrate+the+paint&client=safari&rls=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj-tKavnvXZAhUU8mMKHZYnAGoQsAQIWg&biw=1268&bih=628#imgrc=pkNbq7XuVzAeNM

 

Unfortunately for my university, however, the players were not able to do this. Perhaps, it shouldn’t be surprising: given that instructors at the university are all too happy to do away with the word “penetrate”, I should not blame the players for not penetrating the paint. After all, at this point, they may not have even known what the word means! As students and educators alike, we must all stand up to the attacks on free speech which are taking place on university campuses across the United States. If we want to raise the next great generation of American citizens, we must stand up in the face of fascism and censorship regardless of the form it takes. In fact, some might say that we must “penetrate” the walls which political correctness have erected around our thoughts. Who knows, it might just have a positive effect on our basketball teams as well.