Coulter Shouted Down at Cornell: What to Make of the Shouters?

[F]or intelligent people, “the proper measure of listening to such arguments [about the good and just life for human beings] is a whole life.

--Plato, Republic (450b)


Recently, writer Ann Coulter (J.D., Michigan) gave a talk on freedom of speech at her undergraduate alma mater, Cornell University. 

Unfortunately, some students and faculty there claimed, apparently quite delicately, that her previous talks at Cornell had been "harmful" and tried to stop her from speaking on the grounds that she engages in “hate speech.” 

She did manage to speak, but protestors eventually shouted her down and she left. 

As Jonathan Turley described it:

One man screamed “we don’t want you to be here, your words are violence. … They are threats, you cannot be speaking here. Leave! Two students chanted “no KKK no fascist USA” as they are escorted out by security. Others blared circus music and blew whistles. The Cornell Review reported that [they] employed “a chain tactic, beginning just as soon as the last heckler was removed, so as to continuously speak over Coulter.”

This kind of childish behavior demonstrates that these people do not understand what freedom of speech and hate speech really are, apparently not realizing, or caring, that they are themselves illustrating what harmful hate speech is.

Indeed, such fascistic behavior shows that these students, and, sadly, some faculty, are lacking in self-knowledge of their own limitations.  The issues involved may not seem difficult to children but one does not know how to solve such large problems after taking a few college courses and attending some protests.  As Plato knew, achieving the required wisdom requires an entire life of dedicated thought that these children cannot even understand.

One might get some perspective on the current crop of all-knowing student activists by examining the histories of some of the most famous young “revolutionaries” of the past like the Chicago 8: Rennie DavisAbbie HoffmanJerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Lee Weiner, David DellingerJohn Froines and Black Panther Bobby Seale.  Many had socialist or communist associations and their posters often displayed a clenched fist threatening violence.  The Chicago 8 were charged by the federal government with conspiracy, crossing state lines with intent to incite a riot and other charges related to anti-Vietnam War and 1960s counterculture protests during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago

All these self-styled “revolutionaries” were well educated: Davis (Oberlin, B.A.; University of Illinois, M.A.), Hoffman (Brandeis, B.A.; University of California, Berkeley, M.A.), Rubin (University of Cincinnati, B.A.; studied at Brandeis, Oberlin and the Hebrew University Jerusalem), Hayden (studied at University of Michigan, taught at several major universities), Weiner (University of Illinois, B.A.; Northwestern University, Ph.D.), Dellinger (Yale, B.A.; studied at Oxford and Columbia), Froines (University of California, Berkeley, B.S.; Yale M.S. and Ph.D.).  Seale studied engineering and politics at a Merritt Community College, in Oakland. 

During the trial, Seale was sentenced to 4 years in prison for contempt of court for continual outbursts during the trial but this was overturned on appeal and he was released from prison.  Seale was soon in the dock again in 1970 as part of the New Haven Black Panther trials after several Panther officers murdered 19-year-old fellow Panther Alex Rackley after he confessed to being a police informant under torture. The leader of the murder plan testified that Seale ordered him to kill Rackley. The jury could not reach a verdict and the charges against Seale were dropped.  Seale was released from prison but while he was in prison, his wife became pregnant, allegedly to fellow Panther Fred Bennett.  Bennett's mutilated remains were later found in a suspected Panther hideout in the spring of 1971.  Police suspected Seale ordered the murder to retaliate for the affair, but no charges were filed.  

Davis described the arrival of Guru Maharaj Ji as “The greatest event in history” and spoke at the Millennium '73 event organized by Divine Light Mission in the Houston Astrodome,  He later became a multi-millionaire venture capitalist and founded a company commercializing new technologies.

Hoffman was found dead age 52 in his apartment in Solebury Township in 1989 in an apparent suicide after taking 150 phenobarbital tablets.   His extensive handwritten notes detailed his mental problems.  Some of his friends said he had become depressed at reaching middle age.

Rubin eventually retired from politics and became an entrepreneur, an investor in Apple computer and multi-multi-multi-millionaire. In the 1980s, he went on a debate tour with Hoffman where he argued that the abuse of drugs, sex, and private property had made the counterculture "a scary society” and defended “capitalism rather than radicalism.”

Weiner continued to support activist causes, e.g., Russian Jews, funding for AIDS research, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith New York and became vice president at the AmeriCares Foundation in Stamford, Connecticut to combat poverty. He also ran a home-based fundraising and direct-mail firm for political candidates and organizations.

In the late '70s Dellinger taught for two years at two small Vermont colleges and founded several anti-establishment magazines.  When his Yale class held its 50th reunion, he wrote in the Reunion booklet: "Lest my way of life sounds puritanical or austere, I always emphasize that in the long run one can't satisfactorily say no to war, violence, and injustice unless one is simultaneously saying yes to life, love, and laughter.”

Froines went on to teach chemistry and did some impressive work in various university and government organizations on heath standards for nuclear power and reducing toxins such as including lead, arsenic, chromium, benzene, pesticides, etc., in the environment

Hayden ran for political office and won seats in the California Assembly and Senate and became Director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center in Los Angeles.  He is, however, best known for being married to actress Jane Fonda for 17 years and, reportedly, securing for himself a multi-million evil capitalist dollars settlement from her when they divorced in 1989. 

Over time, most of these former youthful angry revolutionaries abandoned their “revolutionary” clenched fists to devote themselves to more peaceful pursuits.  Some of them even became capitalists or establishment political candidates attempting to improve the world in positive ways.  One has to wonder how they would have behaved in 1968 if they had been granted a divine glimpse of how their lives would work out in future.  Perhaps some of the murders, suicides, broken lives and wasted years might have been replaced earlier by constructive projects that actually help people.

The children now screaming at Cornell and other universities are not even a tragedy.  They are part of the eternal comedy of youth, who, believing that because they have taken a few courses and read Marx and Marcuse they know how to fix the world better than people with much more life-experience who have thought about these problems for many decades.  Most of these children will eventually moderate, some becoming embarrassed at their former infantile behavior, others becoming multi-millionaire bankers and others supporting peaceful liberal causes.  Some, like former “radical son” from the same period, David Horowitz, might even become staunch conservatives when they see through the leftist fog.  Hopefully they will not do too much damage to themselves or others before they grow up. 

Image: Timothy Vollmer, via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

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