Colleges in the United States and the United Kingdom share many great similarities, but an unflattering commonality they share is a tendency to censor what they consider offensive ideas. Although students in the UK don’t enjoy the same First Amendment protections as US students do, the principles that make free speech so beneficial and practical are universal.
In response to six student union groups across the UK banning Robin Thicke’s hit song “Blurred Lines” this semester, Sam Dumitriu of The Mancunion, the UK’s largest student newspaper, recently interviewed Greg about Unlearning Liberty and his thoughts on colleges’ censoring potentially offensive material, like “Blurred Lines.” In the interview, Greg notes that,
“Being offended is what happens when you have your deepest beliefs challenged, if you make it through four years of university without having your deepest beliefs challenged, you should ask for your money back.”
Greg goes on to say that pro-censorship student unions would do well to remember this important point. Check out the full interview here.
The Humanist: One of the things you lament in your book is that differences of opinion are no longer viewed as opportunities to learn or as chances to think through ideas. Please say more about that.
Lukianoff: Speech codes and changed attitudes about freedom of speech have created all of these negative feedback loops for expression and critical thinking. As you censor unpopular opinions you end up with classroom environments where individuals can’t really speak their minds. You also end up with students mostly talking to people they already agree with. The research on this is very strong—when you talk to people you already agree with, it thwarts development of critical thinking skills, and it makes people much more confident in what they already believe. It tends to make people more adamant, and exacerbates the serious problem of groupthink.
This semester, Greg Lukianoff spoke at Columbia University for the Students for Liberty Regional Conference in New York. He discussed the themes of Unlearning Liberty and how the stifling of free speech on campus has increased America’s political divisions and decreased civil discourse.
C-SPAN’s Book TV originally aired Greg’s speech on Saturday, November 17th at 11 p.m. and will air again on Sunday, November 25th at 7 p.m. Be sure to tune in!