July 6, 2017
Last week on Wednesday, June 28, the Canadian Freedom Summit took place at the University of Toronto’s Chestnut Convention Centre. The sold out event featured Daily Wire editor-in-chief and New York Times bestselling author Ben Shapiro.
Other invited speakers included University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson and President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms John Carpay.
Also present for a Q&A panel were Amanda Ellen Gibbs (founder of Liberal, Not Lefty), Alex van Hamme (founder of Free Bird Media), and Josephine Mathias (political commentator and Youtuber).
The event was organized by Students in Support of Free Speech (SSFS). As described on the Canadian Freedom Summit’s official website, the purpose of the event was to raise awareness for the importance of maintaining freedom of speech, to teach and set an example for resolution through peaceful discussion, and to encourage students to broaden their minds.
Organizers and attendees were concerned about the possibility of interruptions and protests shutting down the event, as had been the case at many of Shapiro and Peterson’s past appearances on campuses, but none were present.
Here is a summary of the major themes of the evening.
Censorship on University Campuses
Mari Jang, one of the directors of the Canadian Freedom Summit and also the president of the University of Toronto chapter of SSFS, described how the Chestnut Conference Centre staff complicated the event during its planning stages.
SSFS was told on short notice prior to the event that there were additional security charges. High security fees have also been a complication for students groups at other universities looking to hold controversial events, and have been cited as examples of university staff’s active role in censoring free speech.
Jang said that the venue staff acted with discrimination against the event organizers and that they “implicitly made their stance on free speech crystal clear. They don’t uphold free speech and they don’t want groups like ours in support of it.”
During the Q&A panel, the panelists were asked for their perspective on censorship on university campuses.
Van Hamme brought up the point that universities were created with the intention of investigating ideas, promoting free speech, and finding the truth. Now, as he sees it, the humanities are corrupt and university newspapers aren’t helping with the issue.
Mathias attributed part of the blame to student unions for contributing to censorship on campus, saying that student unions are predominantly occupied by social justice warriors who try to disinvite speakers whose ideas they don’t like by framing them with negative characterizations.
Gibbs added that universities are acquiescing too readily to the demands of students. Driven by profit, universities are trying to market themselves to “millennials who react to emotional feelings and buzzwords.”
“If one university is trying to market itself as a safe space and a home away from home … people are going to vote with their money and they are going to go there,” she said.
Gibbs called the phenomenon of censorship on university campuses “a lack of accountability on all levels.”
Microaggressions and Hate Speech
Shapiro described an incident that happened to him when he was invited to appear on CNN’s Headline News. While there, he referred to Zoe Turr, a fellow guest who was transgender, by the pronoun associated with her biological sex. In response to this microaggression, Turr grabbed Shapiro by the neck and threatened to put him in an ambulance.
Shapiro explained that microaggression culture is normalizing the idea that speech can be equated with violence, leading people to believe that physical violence is a warranted response when confronted with dissenting views.
“I come from a school of thought that says that in a civilized society, you do not get to meet words with violence,” Shapiro said.
Personally, Shapiro believes in using the pronoun that matches a person’s biological sex. “You can’t pop a man in a woman machine and they pop out like a star-bellied sneetch from Dr. Seuss,” he quipped, to much amusement from the audience.
He lamented that expressing ideas like this could count as breaking hate speech rules here in Canada, then went on to praise the strong legal framework in the United States protecting the right to say what you want and the bipartisan support for it.
Postmodernism and Marxism
To properly understand the phenomenon of censorship, speakers discussed the underlying ideologies and the motivations of the people on the political far-left who advocate for it.
Peterson criticized the postmodernists for allying themselves with neo-Marxists, the ideologies that are the precursors of contemporary leftism. According to Peterson, although the idea that there are an infinite number of interpretations for a given thing is correct, the conclusions made by the postmodernists that all interpretations are equally valid or invalid is wrong because without evaluating things as better or worse, a person would do nothing but “suffer miserably and then die.” Hence, postmodernists have had to find another ideology, Marxism, to champion, despite the paradox.
Peterson also said that what the postmodernist neo-Marxist is actually motivated by is a desire for power, since “all they ever talk about is power.”
“If there’s nothing but power, alright, that means we’re at war over power. And if that’s the claim that you make then you can justify the use of power because there’s nothing else to turn to! There’s no logic, there’s no dialogue, there’s no consensus, there’s no discussion between well-meaning people. There’s nothing but division between power groups and identity groups.”
Describing the ever growing multiplicity of categories of race, gender, and other identities, Peterson said “Those categories will be made at the whim of the people who are making those categories, and since as they know, the only thing they believe in is power, you can be absolutely sure that they will have absolutely no hesitancy whatsoever to use power in the seeking of their aims.”
Shapiro’s analysis of the left also touched on their Marxist roots and their political end goal: equality of outcome.
As Shapiro put it, when leftists see two individuals, one more successful than the other, the conclusion is that the more successful person’s achievements are because they had somehow committed an injustice to the less successful person and that the more successful person owes the less successful person something to equal out their status.
Shapiro thinks that factors such as propensity for hard work, career choices, and personal talents, are far more important in determining individual success than where their race or gender sits on the “ladder of oppression.”
Shapiro also drew ties between the left’s desire for equality of feelings with their historical attempts at achieving economic equality. “So the leftists decided that if they can’t achieve economic equality—they tried that for a century and it resulted in a hundred million people dead—they said okay let’s put that aside for the moment… in the short term, at least we can have equality of feelings… and if we can’t all feel equal in our achievements, at least we can all feel equal in our victimhood at the hands of Western civilization.”
Advice for Attendees
Addressing the audience, many of whom were students, the speakers had some words of advice and encouragement.
“Be willing to fight, and ask yourself what kind of society do you want to be living [in] five years from now, or ten years from now, or fifty years from now,” Carpay said. “I for one will say it’s better to die standing than living on your knees.”
“If you have a smartphone, you are now a journalist. If you have a smartphone and it has a camera on it, it is your job to expose some of the bad things that are going on on your campuses,” said Shapiro.
In addition to the calls to action, moderation and self-restraint were emphasized.
“Equally importantly to talking about what we can do in the future, we’re going to have to be twice as careful and be judged twice as strongly, but that doesn’t matter; we can’t resort to victimhood of a different strain,” said Gibbs. “Don’t resort to the labels, don’t resort to the personal attack, don’t try and censor other people because, oh, they did it too.”
Official video of the event can be found at http://strmstr.com/canadian-freedom-summit-2017.html
This article was co-written with Jessica Leung and originally published on the Toronto Beacon