free speech, kansas, and duck dynasty

Two big free-speech matters are making headlines today. First, Phil Roberts of the show Duck Dynasty made some truly ugly comments in an interview with GQ, which prompted A&E to suspend him from the show. Predictably enough, the right-wing meme has become “the left is tolerant of everything as long as you agree with them.” Second, the Kansas board of regents adopted an exceedingly broad policy on social media use that could provide authority for employees (presumably including faculty) to be disciplined for comments that harm or insult the university.

One thing that strikes me about the comparative relief between the two cases is the odd relation to the State and legalistic reasoning. Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal, for example, defended Roberts on First Amendment grounds, even though A&E is a private concern obviously unconstrained by the First Amendment. Meanwhile, one person I read said that the Kansas decision is appropriate because, hey, universities are basically businesses and businesses need to protect their brands. But here (separate from the academic freedom issue) the University of Kansas is a state agency and hence more directly bound by the First Amendment than A&E would be!

Ironically, since the Kansas decision was presumably communicated at some point online, the Regents are the very first violators of their own policy: causing information damaging to the reputation of the University to be spread online!

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

4 thoughts on “free speech, kansas, and duck dynasty”

  1. The question, “does tolerance require one to be tolerant of intolerance,” is a logical absurdity, not a clever tu quoque fallacy to be leveled at social liberals in service of promoting or defending bigotry.

    It’s just like the omnipotence paradox in philosophy: “can God create a stone that is so heavy he can’t lift it?” If you accept that a premise, and its negation, are both true, then sure, you can generate logical absurdities all day.

    And that might seem like a neat way to make your opponent look silly, but you either subscribe to tolerance, or you subscribe to intolerance, not both. Since humans are full of logical contradictions, they’re not easy for a reasonably clever person to find – but it’s a trivial argument because everyone maintains degrees of mutual inconsistencies in their beliefs. Accusations of hypocrisy just go in circles, as anyone who’s been in a mildly dysfunctional romance knows.

    The argument is over whether we should attempt to become more tolerant, or less. That’s a fight that social conservatives are losing badly, and will continue to. Social conservatives are upset about the efforts of social liberals to redefine social taboos and guidelines, calling it “political correctness.” But social conservatives do the same thing — they just call it “politeness.”

    In my view, social liberals win all day with a philosophy that says groups ought to be allowed their little version of politeness or political correctness as long as they don’t coerce others into subscribing to their beliefs with threats of violence. And that’s what first amendment rights to speech prevent. Let the firings, screaming, and reasoned persuasion continue.


  2. Of course there is a third incident, with Patty Adler being disciplined without due process for teaching deviance to the children. It’s going to get worse. This is a coordinated attack on higher education, and especially on sociology and other social scientific disciplines.


    1. The only top-down coordination is coming from the Justice Department who’s leaning on colleges to bump up their Title IX prosecutions.

      Due process is a legal theory that was designed with a consciousness of the history of institutions and the inevitable sociology of witch hunting, and was designed to protect the accused from institutional force. Protecting accusers with institutional force is an equal and opposed force to due process.


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