John Stuart Mill, the 19th century political philosopher, said that “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
Ayn Rand, the enigmatic 20th century quasi-libertarian theorist, once noted that “The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.”
The average millennial student activist, otherwise known as a snowflake, has a different reaction to that conundrum: “Your rights end where my feelings begin. And when you hurt my feelings with your speech, I’m going to find far more corporeal ways to punish you.”
It’s interesting to see just how political discourse on the individual has developed over three separate centuries. And by developed, read: completely gone to pot.
Take, for instance, the case of Burgess Owens. Owens, a 10-year veteran of the NFL who retired in 1982, played for the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets. According to TheBlaze, the former safety is also an outspoken conservative who’s spent his post-playing days talking faith and politics.
Given that Owens, 66, is an African-American entrepreneur, he seems like the ideal speaker to bring to a college campus to discuss the challenges that black business owners might face. In fact, his appearance at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in March seems, on face, to be one of the most profoundly uncontroversial college speeches one could give.
“I grew up in the Deep South during Jim Crow segregation laws,” Owens told the crowd.
“I can tell you how racism looks, how it feels, and what it means. You guys today can go anyplace you want to — any restaurant, any college. We just had a (black) president for eight years guys, elected by Americans. There is nothing you cannot do today based on your tenacity. Can we guarantee success? No. We shouldn’t. What we guarantee is the opportunity to work for it.”
“If I can tell you as someone who came through the days of segregation, we have never had it as good as we do right now,” he added. “If all you’re hearing is how bad things are, day in and day out … you’re going to believe bad things.”
Alas, I had forgotten Owens is African-American and conservative. That admixture produced the usual assortment tolerant campus activists convinced that a successful black man simply isn’t diverse enough to speak on their campus — and he shouldn’t be telling them that hard work is the key to success. Thus, the Q&A portion of the speech went… well, predictably.
“What was your name again?” one student asked.
After Owens repeated his name, she responded, “Thought it was Tom.” Ah yes, the good ol’ racist standby, Uncle Tom. It was used early, and one assumes it would have been used often had the Q&A not eventually been shut down. As the woman stormed out, Owens managed to get in the last word.
“There goes our biggest problem,” he said. “The minute you start calling names, you’ve already stopped the debate. You’re not looking for answers. You’re looking for ways of insulting, and that’s not how Americans do it.”
The next questioner was even more aggressive, trying to grab the microphone away from the moderator that was holding it. “I had the mic. You took the mic away from me. I’m talking. I’m asking a question,” he said.
When the student went on a lengthy rant about “xenophobic” speakers being brought to campus, the moderator decided to cut it short, as typically happens during these Q&A sessions. That’s when audience members began yelling “let him finish!”
And campus activists weren’t done yet. One white male, who ended up shouting about “structural racism,” asked, “Why is it OK to bring people to talk against their own people?”
Nothing Owens said had anything to do with “talking against his own people,” but never mind! He incited enough outrage among the perpetually outraged that the Q&A session eventually had to be shut down.
Just this February, The Washington Post wrote an article about George Washington’s rules of civility under the pretense that President Trump was trampling them. Among those rules of civility: “Let your Conversation be without Malice or Envy,” “Wherein you reprove Another be unblameable yourself,” “Detract not from others,” “Be not apt to relate News if you know not the truth thereof” and “Always Submit your Judgment to others with Modesty.”
For whatever reason, Post writer Fred Barbash couldn’t find the time to work his way on up to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York to visit the William and Hobart Colleges to report on a distinguished black entrepreneur getting called an “Uncle Tom” and shouted down by a retinue of fanatics who — without knowing the truth thereof — derided him as a racist and a race traitor. But at least they submitted their judgement to him with modesty, albeit at a solid 80 decibels.
Diversity of opinion is the one kind of diversity that nobody on the left seems to countenance, particularly in the orbit of academia. Nothing in Owens’ remarks represented hate speech or bigotry. What’s worse is that this lack of intellectual diversity seems to be narrowing on so many vital issues where the freedom to express oneself — without fear of the heckler’s veto — is of paramount importance.
If this trend continues, the most threatened and smallest minority — the individual — is in grave danger of losing their right to speak openly about their beliefs, their faith and their experiences.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.