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The Great Wall of UC Berkeley vs. Baby Face Shapiro

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, anthropology professor | September 18, 2017

The UC administration has gone AWOL, deserting their posts and responsibilities as leaders of one of the world’s finest public universities.

Ben Shapiro

(Photo via Flickr)

The current threat is Baby Face Ben Shapiro, a smart aleck, wisecracking, racist, sexist, misogynist, Islamaphobic, bully to be sure. The little bully right-wing prodigy argues that transgender people are delusional and suffering from mental illness — after all, so many commit suicide during their transitions — and that Israel is a victim state justifying its verging on its genocidal human rights abuses against Palestinians, that black people are poor, criminally inclined, drug addicted, homicidal losers because of their undeveloped culture, that abortion is evil and women who have an abortion should be criminalized, that the concept of white privilege is an  excuse for racism against white people, that “Black Bodies Matter” is a stupid and violent mobilization of people who hate police, law and order. He thinks it is a crime against American families that schools educate young students to respect gays and transgender students in their classrooms. And these are just a few of his talks available on You Tube. So he’s a mean bully and the university is giving this arrogant clown all the publicity he wants, and he wants there to be riots – he tells the media that he expects riots,  and he says it with a smirk. Gotcha, Berkeley!

It is unbelievable that our university —  and can we still call it “our” university when there is no shared governance in these decisions — is putting up obstructions, temporary walls but walls all the same, to close down the very center of the student free speech arena. Not only is this ridiculous, overkill, it is insulting to our student body and an unintentional dog whistle to our students to riot. The majority of our students have no idea who Shapiro is, but they know or will know as soon as the barricades go up, that he is a very dangerous, extremely controversial,  physical threat to them.  Meanwhile, Baby Face is laughing, making fools of the free speech campus and basking in the narcissistic personal drama.

If the clichéd but useful  answer to hate speech  is more speech, why is the university closing down buildings that house the student centers, including the student learning center (for students with disabilities) and canceling  lectures, closing meeting rooms and classrooms, and in our department of anthropology canceling our 2017 Distinguished Lecturer, professor Anna Tsing (UCSC),  because her talk was to take place later this month during Milo Yiannopoulos’s heralded return to the Berkeley campus.

Why aren’t department leaders, faculty, GSIs and student organizations hosting counter events, teach-ins, timed and presented during the controversial alt-right line up of fall speakers: Shapiro, Milo and Coulter? Where are the alternatives? Its not to late to hold conferences, debates, public events and non-violent demonstrations around these talks.

Our university administrators’ fallback position is: ignore it, turn you backs, don’t go there. Or, feeling bad? Feeling sad? We will provide free counseling and tissues. Your classes are interrupted, your student union is closed by the disruptions? Why not go shopping? See a shrink? We shrinking ourselves. We need to be as strong as we can be. It’s OK to cry, it’s appropriate to feel sick to your stomach, but look for support from your friends and colleagues on campus.

The university simply cannot play possum any longer. We have values, mores, rules of conduct, rules  of engagement, all of which are being overturned by fear: fear of lawsuits, fear of the ACLU, fear of wealthy donors, fear of being more than a passive instrument surrounded by lawyers in closed door meetings. We need transparency.

And, we absolutely do not have to accept every single “hate man” or woman who wants to the right to demean, dehumanize , threaten, provoke and upend our primary university mission as seekers of truth and guardians of intellectual freedom. The First Amendment is a work in progress. It evolves, there can be and have been amendments. At present we are “stuck” with the Skokie affair that gave the right to the KKK to march through the village of Skokie (National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie432 U.S. 43 (1977). That ruling needs to be corrected. We need strong legal  scholars and thinkers and researchers  to push against it, to recognize when the rule of law is illegal (as Laura Nader put it).

The current law fetishizes free speech to include the rights of a neo-Nazi organization that is to this day responsible for killing black citizens in Alabama and disposing of their bodies in the Alabama River (see Scheper-Hughes “No on Sessions” on the Berkeley Blog). The KKK in Mississippi beat up Mario Savio in 1964. In 1967, I was in a truck with local civil rights leaders Jesse and Ethel Brooks of Wilcox County, Alabama, when a car of KKK guys shot a bullet that grazed Ethel Brooks’ forehead. The KKK are still killers today.

Beyond that, hate speech harms people; there is no doubt about it. “Words are deeds”, according to Wittgenstein. J.L. Austin (1975) and John R. Searle (1970) wrote  books and essays on speech act theory. They identified  “performative utterances” and “illocutionary acts” that only assert facts or values but that actually bring about some new state of affairs.

Hate speech can make people hate themselves, it can make one want to crawl into a corner and disappear. It can makes one wish one was dead or worse had never been born, the ultimate existential black hole. Hate speech is a speech act that can harm the central nervous system, it can result in PTSD, and  when used by police and jailers to humiliate prisoners hate speech is  psychological torture, a civil rights and human rights violation. In short, hate speech is an act of violence. The First Amendment is ignorant of the vast research on these topics by medical anthropologists, clinical psychologists and neurological scientists.

Crossposted from CounterPunch

Comments to “The Great Wall of UC Berkeley vs. Baby Face Shapiro

  1. I left a rather long comment in reply to “On Speech and Belonging” by John A. Powell. I will attempt to keep this more brief.

    Nancy Scheper-Hughes, I am neither left nor right. I believe I am about as close to middle ground as they come. But it is not my intent to rail against either. As right and left march ever onward towards the extremes, an ever growing segment of the United States is feeling left behind, and without a voice. This is no minority. This is no color. This is no gender. This is no religion. This is the great middle of America, the silent majority and the (increasingly) politically apathetic.

    As a people, we are too quick to argue over rights, and ignore the responsibilities inherent in those rights. We seek to solve injustice in one sector with increased injustice in another. We are too quick to be offended. We feed on negativity in the guise of constructive criticism. We increasingly value the valueless. And yet we have such incredible potential.

    I can feel your frustration, and I can respect your good intentions. I would love to set in on a few of your lectures. I am a man of no particular consequence. I have no certifications that demand the attention or respect of the masses. I would however suggest, that perhaps in your frustration you have fallen victim, as have countless others (including myself) to the very attitudes which you purport to fight against.

    No doubt you have spent a lifetime trying to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. And if that is the case, I thank you for your efforts. At this time however, I think you have done little to further positive dialogue. Certainly you are allowed to vent, and rant. Such is quite the rage is social media today. But there is better in each of us. I have little doubt there is better in you.

  2. Dear Adam Sabes,

    Thank you for writing. I know who you are and I suppose you know who I am.

    You are a sophomore of Miss State where I was invited to be the first anthropology Professor in the state ofMississippi. The year was 1976. I almost took the offer because I love the South, having been a civil rights worker in Selma, Alabama in 1967-8 and seeing the beauty of the landscape despite the ugliness of the KKK then and to this day where lynching Black citizens has been replaced by death squads that kill and throw Black people they don’t like into the Alabama River. I have the autopsy forms. See my article: “Another Country: Race Hatred in the Time of Trump”

    I do understand the pain of white people today who have lost their jobs due largely to globalization and the US giving up production for consumption. Working-class people, Black and White, have the right to be angry, but you are aiming at the wrong target. It is not affirmative action or Mexican workers who have destroyed the American industrial complex. The closure of US industries – the auto industry in particular – is because of global competition. Unions that could have defended industries and industrial workers were attacked by right wing politicians. Its spurious to put the blame on immigrants, Black Americans or agricultural workers who are not taking jobs away from white people. I have crossed the US many times to take the pulse of the nation and I have seen over three decades the closing of major industries that moved to China, to Bangladesh, to Mexico and Central America. The people who did this to us are corporate capitalists, vulture capitalists, not small scale capitalist industries that kept their footing in the US and who cared about their workers.

    In Answer to Your questions:

    I called Shapiro ‘Baby Face’ because he is young and baby-faced. To suggest that he is not a real threat to anyone (except possibly himself).
    The swarming of the Free Speech complex with UC police and other police and sheriffs and claiming a peace victory was kind of like clicking your fingers to keep the elephants away when there were no elephants in the first place.

    In short, used loaded language because I wanted to defuse the hysteria about a person who is spewing hate speech against so many Americans but is not a real threat to the Berkeley campus.

    As I said in my blog, I do not believe that the first amendment means that the university has to accept hate mongering. The First amendment has been amended and can andshould be amended again. The role of the university is

    foster serious intellectual debates and differences not entertainers, anti-intellectuals, and professional provocateurs. In the past we have had many controversial speakers over the Middle East and our role in the continuing conflicts there. But these events invited discussants with different points of view. What kind of “Free Speech” Week has only alt right white suprmacist speakers?

    Are there debates among the Free Speech week speakers or are they simply echos chambers for each other? The University is a space where seekers and scholars of all kinds come to dedicate themselves to to science, natural science, biological science, social science, the arts and the humanities. The Free Speech lineup is madeup of anti-intellectuals and Science Deniers.

    Milo is an entetainer. He should have been listed among the musical and performative artists ( including offensive comedians and clows) that CAL PERFORMANCE sponsors.

    On the impact of words on the brain and central nervous system: Read: Into the Magic Shop by Dr. James Dotty (Stanford U) on the new neuroscience orTrauma and Recovery by Judith Herman. MD. Hate speech plays a role in PTSD – sexist racist speech are forms of psychological rape and have neurological and medical consequences – as do victims of war. See Prof. Robert Lemelson (UCLA) on mind brain and trauma theory and his book (edited) Understanding Trauma. classic. And see Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Philppe Bourgois, “Making Sense of Violence” and the “Continuum of Violence” in our anthology, Violence in War and Peace.

    I feel you should know this. I remember times and places like Chapel Hill, North Carolina (where I was a professor in the late 1970s and early 1980s ) when local high school teachers held general assembles at which White kids and Black kids talked about their family histories, their narratives of suffering, andworked on reconciliation following the model of restorative justice. The South was far more reconciled at that time than was Berkeley when I arrived as a professor in 1982.
    ..And we would lean on Silent Sam, the Confederate soldiermounment, but we called him SAD SACK SAM. Poor guy, we said, he probably came home without his boots and was the original tar-heel.

    I think it is absurd that four members of the UCB faculty, myself included, have been black-listed by your alt-right Professor Watch. Come out in the open – every one is welcome to my classes.

    Why don’t your panels include diverse speakers – I’d be happy to join a panel with next weeks speakers in the spirit of more speech is best speech… Can you and your friends wrangle me an invitation as a discussant following Milo or Horowitz?

    Best, Nancy

  3. As someone who went to Berkeley in 1969, it amazes me how things have changed… as someone who protested Vietnam war and the University’s fencing of People’s Park- and was tear gassed for it, I find that again the University is acting in a fascist manner toward the current groupthink! While I don’t fit into either side, I would like Berkeley to be on the side of dialogue and freedom of expression without fear of violence. To see a professor throwing out labels as her argument against freedom of expression is pathetic.

  4. After reading your hate filled rant all I can say is, lady (and I use that term with a great deal of self-control) you represent the epitome of what has gone completely wrong with the generation graduating From “universities” colleges, high schools, all the way down to grammar school. The “our way or the highway” attitude of the left is bringing this country to ruin.

  5. You are wrong. Wrong on the first amendment. Wrong on Ben Shapiro and wrong he wanted riots. It is the left that indulges in violence , suppression of speech, and freedom of assembly . Your right to freely express your ill inforned opinion in this space is made possible and guaranteed by the right of Ben Shapiro to express his. That you seem unable to grasp this simple proposition is disappointing. That you are a professor spewing nonsense like “performative utterances” and “illocutionary acts” is frightening. Look forward to seeing you at the next book burning.

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