The public’s scrutiny of Professor Jesse Goldberg’s social media posts has focused primarily on the content of his speech. Some have drawn a comparison with the previous uproar over Professor Bruce Murray’s social media posts. I will not characterize the speech of Professors Goldberg or Murray, as neither one should be censured by Auburn University, regardless of the content of their speech, as free expression is a core principle of a community of scholars, which Auburn purports to emulate or at least simulate. Indeed, both these professors have fostered a healthy debate for which enlightened individuals should all be thankful.
The Auburn administration, however, chose to characterize Professor Goldberg’s speech as “inexcusable and completely counter to Auburn values,” and added, “Auburn officials are considering options available to the university."
While I do not provide any commentary on the speech of Professor Goldberg, I will characterize the Auburn administration’s response as self-serving, embarrassing, and revealing, and if they are in fact exploring options meant to harm his employment as a consequence of his speech, the conspiracy to violate Professor Goldberg’s rights can also be described as illegal and even criminal.
A university is designed to promote new thoughts which will hopefully improve society. Dissent is a necessary element of all progress. Feeble ideas, dubious belief systems, and corrupting social movements are all vulnerable to criticism, whereas their righteous counterparts are strengthened by it.
What of “hate” speech? Does it not incite more hatred and thus violence? How can this be true?
Hate speech is not without cost, for both speaker and listener. But to suppress speech is to prohibit the possibility of a peaceful civilization, which most people associate with freedom from physical violence.
When we speak, sometimes we are just trying to think things through and as we meander, we sometimes come across bad ideas. Perhaps, some of our bad ideas, if put into action, would cause harm to others. Some among us may even harbor extraordinarily bad ideas.
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But we would surely rather dangerous infections exhibit symptoms which do not immediately result in death, so that we may seek remedies. Whereas the time and money spent by the many to suppress the “hate” speech of those few willing to pay the high individual costs of adopting hate for their public identities will only amplify the persuasiveness and subsequent harm of such words. Large expenditures pique human interest.
Our ideas are also subject to social scrutiny when we speak. The disparate responses from the recipients of that speech allow us to form beliefs about the costs and benefits of the implied actions associated with that speech.
There is no better place to determine the value of all these viewpoints than the marketplace for ideas. It would be delightful if Auburn University could be a member of said market.
Alan Seals in an associate professor in the Department of Economics at Auburn.
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