Haters gonna hate. So what?

Given Insight


Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This old adage, repeated on countless playgrounds across the country, made so much sense when we were kids. If some menacing meanie approached us on the schoolyard spewing put-downs, we were taught to disempower them through intentional ignorance instead of vulnerably whining. After all, nobody likes a tattletale!

If only the adult world were so simple. Instead, many of us have grown up to abandon the strongminded mentality of our childhood for that of the tattletale by crying at anything we find “offensive.” Sadly, this cult of political correctness has shown a strong presence at UC Berkeley lately, where two controversies over the past week have caused many Cal students to drink the Kool-Aid of offendedness.

First, the YouTube sensation Simple Pickup announced that its self-proclaimed Casanovas would visit campus to teach our Berkeley-goggled men how to hit on hot women. The Gender Equity Resource Center quickly responded to the pickup artists’ advances, with director Billy Curtis deeming their techniques offensive and likening them to “sexual battery.” However, the controversy generated by Simple Pickup pales in comparison with the Black Student Union’s decision to host Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan on campus. Wellknown for his history of anti-Semitic and homophobic remarks, Farrakhan’s presence sparked an outcry from the Jewish community — even prompting our ASUC executives to write an op-ed calling on Farrakhan to “exercise his free speech elsewhere.”

By now, both controversies have largely blown over, and, fortunately for the First Amendment, the two events unfolded unfettered by censorship. Indeed, to their credit, even the harshest critics of Farrakhan and Simple Pickup did not call for the administration to intervene. Nevertheless, their gut reaction to condemn and discourage discourse represents an illiberal element of our politically correct culture that is unhealthy for any free society. Rather, to protect individual rights and truly defeat bigotry, our campus should call for conversation surrounding such controversies, not silence.

As a former intern of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), I can testify that universities too often capitalize on controversies to institute unconstitutional policies. In fact, judging by Mark Yudof ’s open letter “on recent incidents of intolerance,” it seems like the wheels may already be turning toward a new era of censorship for our university. In his systemwide email last Saturday, the UC president promised to “strengthen prohibitions on threatening conduct and acts motivated by bias.” But, as a lawyer him­self, Yudof should beware that non-violent “threatening conduct” like “hate speech” or “bias incidents” is fully protected by the First Amendment.

Furthermore, past attempts at regulating “bias incidents” by college administrations have been utter failures. After all, “bias” is entirely subjective, so what may offend me may be innocuous to thee. Perhaps the most hilarious example of failed hate prevention is the Claremont Colleges’ “bias-related incident” protocol, where students have been rebuked by the administration for innocent pranks like writing, “Hillary (Clinton) is a foxy lesbian” and throwing tortillas out of a moving car. Thus, Yudof should be mindful of the unintended consequences on students’ individual rights when instituting systemwide policies to improve campus climate, lest they degenerate into a joke like they have in Pomona.

Don’t get me wrong. Simple Pickup’s predatory pranks are questionably sexist, and Farrakhan’s controversial comments are unquestionably hateful. Indeed, in my humble opinion, Farrakhan would be a strong contender for Silky Johnson’s Player Hater of the Year title on “Chapelle’s Show” — even if he hasn’t called in a bomb threat to the Special Olympics! But calling for haters to be silent only draws more attention to their cause and makes them appear as martyrs for free speech. Take Berkeley College Republicans’ Increase Diversity Bake Sale for example. Thanks to the outcry to silence it, the anti-affirmative action event drew national media attention to SB 185 that arguably ensured the bill’s veto — precisely what those dessert-selling “haters” wanted!

As FIRE notes in its “Guide to Free Speech on Campus,” “If prejudice, bigotry, or ignorance exists, it is far better to know how people actually think, to discuss such things, and to reply appropriately than to force such things underground, where they only fester and worsen.” So, in the future, our campus community should embrace controversial visits like those by Farrakhan and Simple Pickup as an opportunity to engage in discussion about sensitive subjects rather than shun them. Because, at the end of the day, haters gonna hate no matter how hard we try to silence them. So, the least we can do is learn.

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  • Hi Casey,

    First, I’d like to say that I’m a big admirer. However, I came to a different conclusion with regard to Farrakhan’s invitation.

    Like you, I believe that you can post a sign with any message on your private (and public) property, but I don’t think this is a free speech issue at all. Neither the campus administration nor the petition authors has “demanded” that Farrakhan’s invitation be rescinded. The petition clearly states, “[We] would never ask to dictate which speakers the group brings to campus. … We are in no way protesting the BSU’s right to bring Minister Farrakhan to Cal, but are opposing his hateful words and character.”

    The petition is effective. It tells the BSU that they’ve invited a hurtful element into our community. It warns others to be suspicious of Farrakhan’s message. It suggests that Farrakhan’s views are not universally accepted on our campus. This petition is not intended to censor, but to educate.

    Let me illustrate the point. Let’s say I had an Asian roommate named Steven, and I invited over a notorious Asian-hater named Lois. The point is not whether I am allowed to invite over Lois, but whether Steven should inform me of his reputation and hurtfulness.

    • Ambrosia

      What you’re saying would be valid if the petition is what Casey’s column was about. It isn’t. Casey was referring principally to the op-ed from the two ASUC executives, an op-ed that tortured the English language in an effort to reconcile free speech with their obvious desperation to silence Farrakhan. Jason Willick wrote a (quite bluntly, superior) column stating as much here:


      An op-ed calling for sane, non-bigoted Berkeley students to picket the event or organize a talk in parallel to discuss the abhorrent rhetoric of the Nation of Islam would not draw sharp rebukes from Jason and Casey. They’re not responding to speech they don’t like with more speech of their own, they’re trying to actively quell speech they don’t like using every possible means except outright force. 

  • Onemillion

    I want to point out something Casey said in his very first column last semester.  Casey said he would write about libertarian policy, specifically, he would write about how higher education should be de-funded, cast off by the state into a fully privatized mode.

    Casey never wrote about that idea last semester, and hasn’t yet this semester.  Instead this week, he has written a pretty run of the mill free speech column seemingly rehashed from previous posts.

    Mr Given urges Berkeleyans to resist the urge to fall in line with the predominant group-think here on our liberal campus, espousing the benefits of genuinely questioning our beliefs so that we may come to our own self-determined political perspectives.  Yet, it appears that when it comes to his own libertarian beliefs, Casey has decided against their own thorough examination.

    Surely Casey, you have thought about your first column’s statement that you would write of the benefits of de-funding the UC and CSU, and maybe you even attempted the beginnings of a story about it – i concede that much.  But then where is the column? – it is surely more pressing and relevant than another rehash over free speech.  Perhaps in your research you found that the pure libertarian policy ideals of limited government – including privatization of higher ed – are not such a good, or even remotely viable idea?  

    If this is the case – and i do suspect it is, then why not follow your independent mindset and write about your discovery, even if it clashes with your stated libertarian ideals?  Wouldn’t that be part of genuinely questioning your own beliefs?  

    For you to avoid this topic reeks of disingenuousness, and hypocrisy.

    • True That

      Hahaha, are you serious, or are you just playing set-up man for Givens?
      Not that it matters, he did make that claim, and maybe he should put his money where his mouth is.
      OTOH, why should he bother making the argument when the Regents, system and campus-wide administrations, and state and federal governments are all moving in that direction just fine without Casey’s help?

      If you want disingenuity, check out his column supposedly rebutting Prof. Reich’s arguments about income inequality. Maybe Casey is holding back on the privatization arguments b/c they don’t hold water either.

      For the record, I think he does a good job on the free speech/civil liberties side of things – sometimes it’s best to stick with one’s strengths.

      • Andre Louis

        “For the record, I think he does a good job on the free speech/civil liberties side of things – sometimes it’s best to stick with one’s strengths.”

        This doesn’t sound like a balanced evaluation of Casey’s analytical prowess so much as a betrayal of your own personal biases. What you mean is that when Casey makes comments that liberals agree with, he’s doing a “good job,” but when he doesn’t, he’s not. Ergo, since liberals agree with libertarians on just about everything with respect to free expression and civil liberties, he does a “good job” commenting on those subjects. Where liberals disagree–economic policy, for example–he’s failing to play to his strengths. 

        Would anyone who isn’t transparently disingenuous care to accuse Casey of being disingenuous? It might lend a modicum of credibility…

    • Andre Louis

      “After all, I will be questioning everything from whether our university should be publicly funded at all — seriously — to whether the ASUC should even exist (this is not hyperbole, people). ”

      This is the only sentence in Casey’s first column that makes reference (a passing reference at that) to privatizing the UC. It contains about 30 words. That column contained 765 words. Ironically, your ludicrous “critique” accusing Casey of disingenuousness  is the epitome of disingenuity.
      No, Casey has not written a column exclusively and explicitly about public education. When controversial events which directly deal with issues concerning libertarians emerge, Casey tends to comment on them. I don’t see how that constitutes cowardice.

      By the way, you must be some sort of Jedi to think yourself able to read Casey’s mind to such a profound degree merely from reading an article unrelated to any of your ravings. Indeed, you seem to claim that Casey hasn’t written about public education because he has secretly discovered that libertarianism is a failed philosophical project and he’s simply afraid to admit it. To abandon formality for a moment here, and call you out plainly–how the **** do you know that? Forget about questioning your beliefs for a moment and try forming beliefs based on evidence rather than aimless whining and conspiracy theories in the first place.

      • Not_a_guess

        Well excuse me, he wrote that LAST semester, and didnt follow up.  Its a pretty big issue, dontchathink?  Its the most important, most relevant issue to us as students.  Yes, I do believe Casey researched it (knowing it is such a huge issue why would he not love to do a column on it) and i believe he did not find the evidence to support his original statement that the UC should be de-funded.

        • Andre Louis

          Sorry, I was under the impression I was talking to someone of at least marginal intelligence. Do you know what a baseless claim is? It’s a statement without foundation in reason or evidence. There is no evidence or sound reasoning to support the statement that Casey’s hitherto omission of a column on public education is the result of research yielding information contrary to his current perspective. 

          Columns don’t tend to be evidence heavy, anyway. That’s not their purpose. Their function is to present a fresh perspective in a well-expressed and entertaining manner to facilitate conversation on the issues discussed therein. Accordingly, Casey’s writings tend to be philosophical rather than empirical (with a few exceptions, of course), which suits the forum well. Incidentally, that’s also what he actually promised to do:

          “Fear not, I won’t abuse this space as a soapbox for libertarian evangelizing…Instead, I will take a unique approach of exploring campus and national politics through exposing the larger philosophical debates inherent in each issue, while delicately dropping my two cents.” 

          You, sir (if indeed you are the same sir as Onemillion–but my comment applies either way), are talking out of your ***. Kindly desist.