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The Double-Edged Sword of Censorship

Talk about darkly fortuitous timing! With the furor over censorship these days, readers should flock to my forthcoming book, Behind the Carbon Curtain: The Energy Industry, Political Censorship, and Free Speech (UNM Press, March 2017). Well, at least left-leaning readers because, as one might infer from the title, the book explores the ways in which those whose wealth and power derived from fossil fuels have manipulated government to shut down artists, fire scientists, and silence educators who dare question the viability of oil, coal and gas. But fear not my right-leaning friends, there is enough censorship to go around.

University campuses across the United States have become the proxy battlefields for political conservatives and liberals to play out their ideological differences. And both are finding that censorship is a double-edged sword.

From the left come edicts of political correctness, escalating to demands of rooting out micro-aggressions, creating safe spaces and imposing trigger warnings on campuses. Conservatives have raised the shield of righteous indignation to block the assault on free thought. Their battle cry is “Hypocrisy!” and it slices to the heart when universities advocate silencing speech.

Like blue-helmeted peacekeepers, University of Chicago leaders carved an admirably principled position in rejecting censorship while recognizing the importance of respectful discourse: "… concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community." Amen (or are religiously laden terms allowed?)

From the right we have the corporate censors in Wyoming and the moral censors in Wisconsin. While our industry masters in the West conscript government agencies to wage war on art, science and education, on the northern front, legislators are hacking away at public universities. Politicians are demanding the cancellation of a course, “The Problem of Whiteness,” and the dismissal of its instructor. And if the University Wisconsin supports the faculty member, then the politicians have issued a thinly veiled threat to slash funding.

The battle for free speech has bled into the national realm, as the President-elect silences news sources that he finds objectionable. We have a perfect storm of business and politics colluding to trump the First Amendment (pun intended). But then, what did the nation think was going to happen as we allowed our government to devolve into a corporatocracy in recent decades?

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