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Even a Liberal Novelist Thinks The Speech Police Have Gone Too Far

Social media posts are forever, despite the fact that acclaimed writer Joyce Carol Oates is now backpedaling on her concern over the Left’s speech police. She’s backing up in the wake of a New York Post story about her reaction to a Brandeis University list of bad words. Still, her original tweets shouldn’t be dismissed. On the contrary; they should be read more than once. Here’s the story about Brandeis from the Post:

Students and faculty at Brandeis University are being urged to stop using words and phrases like “picnic,” “trigger warning” and even “rule of thumb,” because of what a campus counseling service calls their links to violence and power to “reinforce systems of oppression.”

A compendium of “potentially oppressive language” posted on the school’s website by its Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center also lists loads of examples of “gender exclusive,” “ableist,” and “culturally appropriative” terminology that “can get in the way of meaningful dialogue.

Oates responded this way on social media according to the Post:

“What is strange is that while the word ‘picnic’ is suggested for censorship, because it evokes, in some persons, lynchings of Black persons in the US, the word ‘lynching’ is not itself censored,” Oates said in one post.

“Picnic” disappeared from the online Oppressive Language List sometime last week as reports of its existence spread, according to reports.

Peruse her Twitter feed and you find this:

Shutting down speech is an alarming trend being promoted and imposed by the Left. There are many things that make this nation a beacon of hope that draws people from around the world. Among them is the knowledge that we can freely express ourselves. But this freedom seems to scare the Left. Rather than spend their energy amplifying their ideas, they prefer to silence other views. Frankly, that’s easy – much easier than defending one’s ideas and persuading others to change and embrace new thinking.

Now it seems Oates is taken aback by the attention given to her reaction to the Brandeis list. Now, instead of defending speech and thought, Oates returns to a favorite theme:

It’s regrettable she backed off. The anti-speech movement should alarm everyone, regardless of ideology or political affiliation. Free speech is inexplicably linked with free thought. What will we do when the Left moves on from silencing speech?

For its part, Brandeis University says the list is just a resource.

The university in a prepare statement last week said the “was developed by students” and was “in no no way an accounting of terms that Brandeis students, faculty or staff are prohibited from using or must substitute instead.”

Let’s hope so. Brandeis is named for Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. The university writes that he “championed open inquiry and civic engagement.” Oh my.

Donna Martinez / Senior Writer and Editor

Donna came to the John Locke Foundation in January 2003 after freelance writing for Carolina Journal and contributing to projects for the North Carolina Education Alliance. He...