By: Zachary Strong
Given the discussion surrounding McMaster’s protest guidelines, I’d like to offer some perspectives for today’s student activists to consider.
First, some biographical details for context. In 2011, I was the first person to publicly denounce offensive and crude cheers used by the engineering “Redsuits” group during Welcome Week. In 2012, I ran for the position of McMaster Engineering Society President on a diversity-focused platform. In 2013, following a meeting with concerned students from Feminist Alliance McMaster, I was the first person to voice a concern directly to the Engineering Society that LGBTQ+ engineering students lacked adequate peer support. I share these things not to boast of my activist credentials, but to assure readers that I am not a member of the “alt-right” or an enemy of human dignity.
That said, I would like to address the misguided claim that McMaster’s new guidelines infringe on activists’ ability to dissent. I ask students to consider what the university might become without policies banning de-platforming tactics as a form of protest.
Here’s the core issue — McMaster’s guidelines affirm that the right to free expression includes the right to not be de-platformed. To remove that right from others today is to sacrifice your own claim to that right in the future. For if you are free to disrupt events you find reprehensible, what’s stopping your own events from being similarly disrupted?
Without these guidelines, what would prevent secular humanists from disrupting gatherings of the Muslim Students Association, or anti-LGBTQ+ activists from crashing Mac Pride events? What would stop BDS activists from targeting pro-Israel gatherings, or Zionist activists from shutting down pro-Palestine events?
Without a universal policy of mutual non-disruption, free speech only becomes available to those capable of defending their platforms, physically or otherwise. Given that many activists on campus claim to be acting to prevent violence, any opposition to these guidelines seems counterintuitive.
It’s also worth mentioning that de-platforming, or otherwise preventing people from speaking their minds, has long been the hallmark of totalitarian regimes, and is only a recent addition to the modern activist’s toolkit.
Indeed, humanity’s most celebrated activists have employed creative, provocative, and non-confrontational methods that exposed the hypocrisy and tyranny of their oppressors. Consider the heroic Iranian women currently demonstrating against the compulsory hijab; they face prostitution charges for merely removing their hijab in public. Other paragons of creative and non-confrontational resistance include Rosa Parks, the suffragettes, Sir Thomas More, Oskar Schindler and Banksy.
Activists must realize that Jordan Peterson, who they de-platformed on this campus one year ago, is a master of non-confrontational subversion. The footage from last year’s event, where Peterson faced down a crowd of screaming undergraduates armed with glitter and air horns, showcased his calm and measured disposition. It made him look like a reasonable intellectual, and cast McMaster’s student activists as a mob of raving lunatics.
The publicity generated from last year’s protests has fuelled Peterson’s rise to stardom, making him one of the world’s most sought-after thinkers. Ironically, Peterson is beating social justice activists at their own game.
Students of McMaster University: silencing those with whom you disagree instead of exposing their shortcomings in a public debate is an unsustainable approach used exclusively by fools and tyrants. It has never worked, it is not currently working, and it will never work.
Furthermore, protest tactics that de-platform others have no place or purpose in an institution dedicated to the discovery, communication, and preservation of knowledge. Many activists that insist otherwise are well meaning, but misguided. However, some are merely clever thugs who use the prevention of violence as an excuse to perpetuate it.
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