The Corner

Education

Professor Pushes the Ridiculous ‘Words Can Be Violence’ Notion

Professors say lots of ridiculous things that advance “progressive” notions about the world. It’s hard to top a recent New York Times article by a psychology prof at Northeastern who argued that there is a scientific basis for believing that words can “shorten your life” and therefore some speakers should be kept off college campuses.

As I explain in today’s Martin Center article, while there is indeed science showing that prolonged stress, of which words could play a role, can be physically damaging, that simply doesn’t apply to the situation of guest speakers (or for that matter, any other kind of speech on campus), since whatever “stress” might be caused by listening to someone who presents ideas you disagree with, that is of short duration and you’re free to leave if you just can’t stand hearing what the person has to say.

The professor in question, one Lisa Feldman Barrett, admits that it’s not bad to hear challenging ideas, but thinks there’s a line to be drawn between those who present debatable arguments (such as Charles Murray) and those she claims are just spreading hate (such as Milo Yiannopoulos). Even if that fuzzy line made scientific sense (listening to someone who really just spewed hatred is, after all, merely short-term stress), there is no reason to think that it would be respected by campus social-justice-warrior types who love any excuse to keep their philosophical enemies from speaking.

Sorry, professor, but words are not violence and all you’ve done is to fan the flames that are consuming free speech on college campuses.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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