Anarchist professor tackles hate speech


In a recent, ironically titled Globe and Mail Opinion piece, “You can’t say that on campus,” Margaret Wente sets out to defend Acadia University’s Rick Mehta. Mehta has been at the center of what Wente calls “the wars for freedom of speech” and the title she has chosen means that it should not be silenced.

In the process of arguing for Mehta, Wente decided to cite me as an example of everything she thinks is wrong in contemporary academia. She writes of my years of research, publication and teaching as a “rubbish mark … unfortunately common in our higher education institutions”.

Yet the problem with Wente’s apparent defense of free speech is his transparent desire to silence me. After shaping her caricature of me, she then adds one last nudge to my scholarship alongside her call for free speech: “Students don’t need a safe space to protect them from… Prof . Mehta. They need responsible adults to protect them from Professor Springer.

I have received an avalanche of hate mail since the publication of Wente’s article, including thinly veiled threats that indicate I know where my office is.

Anarchist geography has a long tradition and includes the revered scientist Peter Kropotkin.
(Simon Springer / Kropotkin Museum in Dmitrov)

I believe that Wente’s anger for me stems in part from his perplexity with my research area of ​​anarchist geography. Despite a long tradition dating back to the mid-19th century, when famous Russian scientist Peter Kropotkin first put forward his concept of “mutual aid”, Wente himself is oblivious to the field.

What probably put me in his sights was a recent rant about me by policy scholar Steven Hayward, posted on the US Conservative Blog. Electric line. In his article, he attacks my article with the provocative title “Fuck Neoliberalism” published in ACME: an international journal for critical geographies. Wente was probably not impressed in the same way, and despite her avowed ignorance, she is of the opinion, “What this has to do with geography of any sort is just guessing.” ”

The wars for freedom of expression

Most Canadians are more than happy to support free speech, believing it to be the foundation of democracy. But that sentiment only reveals half the story. For speech to be free, it must be aligned with freedom itself.

The reason for this connection should be obvious, but it also demands that we recognize that speaking is never just speaking. It is always political, and the policies that flow from speech are inevitably enactive, that is, they have material consequences because they leave impressions on the world.

Words don’t just float in the air like the mist of our breath on a cold winter day. They shape the way we think about the places we inhabit, and in this ever-evolving process of dialogue and expression, words form the foundation upon which all action is built.

Jordan Peterson addresses a crowd during a stop in Sherwood Park Alta on February 11, 2018.

What contemporary champions of free speech like Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto mean by “free speech” is speech without consequences, which is both dangerous and irresponsible. The history of the twentieth century shows with frightening clarity how speech opens the way to action. I am thinking in particular of the Holocaust, which was originally sparked by anti-Semitic hate speech.

Are the memories of contemporary free speech apostles really that short?

No freedom in violence

When speaking is designed to silence the voices of others, one must ask how much the speaker really is devoted to the principles of freedom. When the spoken word goes further and advocates harming another individual or group, calls for their death or worse yet is a call for genocide, we can clearly see the ruse that freedom of speech has become.

What is most often touted today in the name of so-called “free speech” is actually a thinly veiled excuse to promote hate speech. This deviation has nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with its reduction. Freedom of expression is actively abused in an attempt to give credibility to hateful ideas such as racism, sexism, homophobia, colonialism, ableism and transphobia.

But we would do well to remember that there is no freedom in violence. This simple idea helps explain why, in Canada, speech is only protected to the extent that it supports an ideal of substantive political equality. Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, the freedom to engage in hate speech is not considered a form of freedom of expression.

“Fucking neoliberalism”

The fact that I earn my living at a university seems to bother Wente, which is why she advocates economic violence happen to me by implying that I shouldn’t have a job.

When I wrote “Fuck Neoliberalism” after 15 years of research and publication on the subject, I understood that the controversial title would attract attention. However, as I put it in the article: “Why should we be more concerned with the use of profanity than with the vile rhetoric of neoliberalism itself?” I decided that I wanted to transgress, upset and offend, precisely because we should to be offended by neoliberalism. This is quite upsetting, and so we should ultimately seek to transgress it.

Neoliberalism interprets the word in the same way as the markets. That is to say: The freedom to do whatever you want, regardless of social divisions, inequalities and violence.

Comments by a self-proclaimed free speech advocate spark debate about his position at Acadia University in Nova Scotia.
(THE CANADIAN PRESS / Andrew Vaughan)

Calling neoliberalism to account is a process that requires an understanding of the similar patterns of violence unfolding in the different communities, cities and countries that have embraced it. It demands solidarity across space. It requires geographic knowledge.

The circle is closed when we realize that it is at least in part thanks to neoliberalism and its promotion of individualism as a fundamental virtue that helps to explain current thinking around freedom of expression. The freedom of the individual speaker is considered the highest principle of concern, no matter how exclusive and violent the words are, while the material repercussions on those subjected to hate speech are set aside and rejected in a problematic way.

Such a lack of concern for the impact on the wider community is the height of narcissism and irresponsibility. As with free markets, it is mainly the already privileged people who reap the benefits of a discourse on freedom of expression.

As long as the elite are free to speak their own truths and accumulate more privileges, the social evils that flow from their “freedom” are considered irrelevant.

It is this disproportionate selfishness that allows Rick Mehta to tweet ”I do not support the positions of the Nazis, but they are also human beings and I will treat them with respect as long as they do the same for me.

I can’t help but think of Martin Niemöller’s words, “First they came…”, a quote on permanent display at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

For anarchist geography – we are all connected

Where geography, and particularly an anarchist approach to it, comes into play has been succinctly captured by Kropotkin:

“Geography… must teach us, from our earliest childhood, that we are all brothers, whatever our nationality. In our age of wars, national pride, jealousy and national hatred expertly nurtured by people pursuing their own selfish, personal or class interests, geography must be … a means to dispel these prejudices and to create other feelings more worthy of humanity. “

Part of the dream beyond capitalism, and its current incarnation as neoliberalism, is to express our outrage at the inequalities it creates and the unequal distribution of the wealth it needs to function. Therefore, neoliberalism is unquestionably a question of geographers.

So no, students don’t need to be protected from me, as Wente claims. They are not the unfortunate victims of the leftist bogeyman brainwashing, as she would have us believe. Students are fully autonomous people who are able to formulate their own opinions and values. They don’t need paternalism and condescension.

My role is not to tell students what to think, but to encourage their creativity and cultivate the ground on which they can realize their own freedom.

Education should be a step on the road to a happy and fulfilling life. It should give students the courage to dream beyond the waking nightmare of the world they have inherited to envision a new geography of freedom. The dream is appreciated in words, and these words, like all words, are realized in action.


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