No Safe Spaces: What Happens When Common Sense and Values Disappear
The new documentary No Safe Spaces, starring conservative thinker, radio host, and writer Dennis Prager and liberal, comedian, and podcast host Adam Carolla, is a must-see for anyone concerned with the long-term viability of the First Amendment's free speech protections. While primarily focusing on the hostility to free speech laying siege to America's college campuses, vividly illustrated with compelling clips of violent protests and civil unrest by students from Berkeley to Yale, No Safe Spaces powerfully illustrates how the movement to limit speech has moved into mainstream arenas as well.
Prager and Carolla recognize that "common sense and values" are disappearing for the first time since our country's founding. There are appearances by figures on both sides of the ideological spectrum including liberals Barack Obama, Van Jones, Cornell West, Dave Rubin, and Alan Dershowitz, all of whom recognize the dangers to the country when progressive notions of microaggressions and safe spaces become the new normal.
Prager appreciates how unique free speech is on the world stage. Across Asia, Europe, and even Canada, First Amendment rights are either nonexistent or limited, yet the highly educated elites have decided that our historically exceptional freedoms are now dangerous. Prager observed:
What's happening now in the United States, you are not to be heard on a college campus, or at your place of work. This is brand new. This is one of the few things one could say we have no precedent for in the United States.
In recent years, student-demanded campus speech codes have been promulgated across the country, leading to speakers being disinvited or shouted down. Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, Charles Murray, Ann Coulter, and Prager are just a few of the more high-profile speakers dealing with disinvites and protests. It cost Berkeley $600,000 for the security required to bring Ben Shapiro to campus, where he received a standing ovation that proved, as he shared, that there are still students "who don't believe that the First Amendment should die under the jackboots and Birkenstocks of a bunch of anarchist, communist pieces of garbage."
And while thankfully Shapiro is right that not all students wish to see the First Amendment shredded, those with the loudest voices certainly do. College students, by a margin of 51% to 36%, favor speech codes, and 49% do not believe in free speech for hate speech, while "40% of Americans under age 35 tell pollsters they think the First Amendment is dangerous because you might use your freedom to say something that hurts somebody else's feelings." As Bill Maher points out, "who told you you only had to hear what didn't upset you?!"
While the Left shuts down free speech with accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, and the like, Prager recognizes that leftists really consider conservatives evil. "They have to think we're evil. Otherwise, they will have to debate us." Yet, sadly, students are no longer taught to critically think and debate ideas. Jose A. Cabranes notes in the Wall Street Journal that Yale's mission statement was changed in 2016 from the decades-long purpose "to create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge" to stating that Yale is now officially "committed to improving the world" and educating "aspiring leaders." Furthermore, most campuses no longer require classes in civics or the Constitution, instead requiring classes in diversity and other identity politics–related topics. Future leaders are not being taught that the First Amendment was designed to protect the exact type of speech that some may find offensive. Prager notes, "The place that is supposed to be the place of ideas, the university, is the most closed place in the United States."
For those following incidents of "snowflakes" disrupting civil discourse, free speech, and the rule of law on campuses, the examples used in No Safe Spaces are familiar. But when watching the film, the viewer realizes the extent and seriousness of the problem we face as generations grow more and more intolerant of views with which they disagree, while their authoritarian demands grow more and more unreasonable — and un-American.
Back to Yale, where, in 2015, students surrounded a professor, screaming at him like a crazed mob of lunatics, showing complete disregard for his position of authority. The reason for their fury? His wife, also at Yale, sent an email permitting Halloween costumes the students might have found offensive. Students yelled, "It's not a debate," "I am sick of looking at you," "You are disgusting," and "I want your job taken from you." In a sane world, those students would have been disciplined or even expelled, but not at Yale.
One of the most egregious campus episodes involved another couple who were faculty at Evergreen State College. Bret Weinstein and his wife are liberal Democrats who naïvely believed they would always be welcome on campus — until they learned that the student-imposed "Day of Absence" meant no white people on campus. Weinstein chose to teach anyway and was shocked to learn that the students had no interest in engaging with him to discuss the issue; their only interest was in threatening his safety and destroying him for appearing when whites were forbidden on campus. Weinstein, newly woke, concluded:
In some ways Evergreen is a preview of what's coming. The fact that this is happening across so many campuses means that it is going to spread into every quadrant of society and things are going to get worse elsewhere and so Evergreen is describing a future that is rapidly approaching.
By way of example, the film addresses the impact of this phenomenon on comedians and other media figures. Tim Allen's second highest rated sitcom was canceled for making fun of microaggressions, Kevin Hart was forced to step down from hosting the Oscars, Curt Schilling was fired from ESPN, Roseanne Barr was forced out of her sitcom on ABC, Megyn Kelly's Today show was canceled, and Phil Robinson was suspended from Duck Dynasty.
Then there is the tech industry, with Google's, Twitter's, Facebook's, and YouTube's "global community standards" choosing which speech will be permitted and which removed. PragerU's YouTube channel, with one billion views last year, has over 100 videos that have been placed on a restricted list (for videos containing violence and pornography). Those include videos on Winston Churchill, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Ten Commandments. (Prager, testifying on the Hill, jokes that he'll remake the last video and rename it "The Nine Commandments.")
Several themes permeate the film helping to explain the cause of this trend. This generation has been raised with a victim mentality. If all people are victims, they all need protection, and they are no longer responsible for their own behavior. Carolla recognizes that there is nothing "more debilitating than thinking yourself a victim." His congressional testimony is compelling as he makes an analogy between astronauts who spend time in a zero-gravity environment and today's students.
We're taking these kids in the name of protection and putting them in a zero-gravity environment and they're losing muscle mass and bone density. They need to live in a world that has gravity[.] ... Children are the future, but we're the present, and we're the adults. Can we just bring back order, and could the faculty and administrators on these campuses act like adults who are in charge of these kids who need some gravity in their life?
The film also makes the important point that identity politics is the exact opposite of common sense. Whether victimization, cultural appropriation, social justice, or trigger warnings and safe spaces, academia lauds these values as progressive and positive. Individualism? Not so much. And yet America was founded on individualism, and individual accomplishment until now has always been heralded and encouraged. Prager concludes, "For being who you want to be, America is the true safe space." College administrators are slow to heed the message.
No Safe Spaces makes a compelling case for immediate action, lest we lose more generations to the movement that believes that free speech exists for me but not for thee. It balances the seriousness of the issue with humor, fun visuals, and a dynamic cast to make the case that without diversity of thought on campus ("ideological fascism"), mainstream organizations will be infected by this plight, since these students are our future. The fight will take courage — courage to speak.