Right to Offend – Free Speech on Campus: Ep. 1

Laura Kipnis,

Release Date
August 1, 2016


Free Speech

If what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, does what doesn’t offend you make you stronger? As many push for bans on offensive speech, Professor Laura Kipnis highlights the benefits of offensive speech.

In particular, she shows how examining what offends you can lead to a greater understanding of your own beliefs. By banning offensive speech, you’re also banning the meaningful dialogue and learning that speech can foster.

Free Speech on Campus (playlist): Learn about all of the major issues affecting freedom of speech, open inquiry, and academic freedom on college campuses at hayekandchill.com
Free Speech — Trigger Warnings, Academic Freedom, and More (program): Join Professor Tom Bell, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and the Institute for Justice in this new program, and learn about rights so fundamental, they’re in the very First Amendment. 
The Coddling of the American Mind (article): In the name of protecting students’ emotional well-being, college students and administrators are calling for censorship of certain forms of speech. The results deleterious to students and freedom of thought.

>> So I don’t want things that offend me to have power over me. I wanna have power over them, which I think means having intellectual distance in using my intellect as a distancing tool. To paraphrase Nietzsche who said things that, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I think that what doesn’t offend me makes me stronger.

Or what does offend me and I’m able to overcome the offense makes me stronger. So I don’t just don’t think that I have to succumb to what offends me. I would rather use my intellect as my own form of weapon. I hear a lot about movements on campus to eliminate offense these days and I actually take the opposite view.

I’m somebody who has written a lot about offense and I’ve sort of taking the opportunity to become offended and subject myself to offense and written about it and it’s been actually really creative and intellectually interesting experience for me. I wrote quite a long time ago about Hustler magazine and I had decided to write about it.

I got a copy of Hustler, I looked at it, and I was so offended I actually had to throw it out. And then at some point I decided to go back to it, and I looked at it more closely. And I started to realize that the things that were offending me about it were the ways that it defied my own boundaries, and proprieties.

So, for example, when you start looking at it more closely you realize that it’s using disgust, and particularly bodily disgust as a sort of a attack on class proprieties on bourgeois properties, on forms of elitism and power, entrenched power. So it’s actually using disgust in this very political way to, as an attack upward.

And it’s a form of political speech and as I started investigating more about the ways that obscenity has been used historically as an attack on elite going back to satirists like Ravelli or Swift. I became really interested in offense and grossness of the type that Hustler deploys. And of course, in writing this way, I was taking on a kind of feminist establishment the politics at the time were leading more toward anti-pornography.

And here I was saying that pornography was this interesting form to look at but what I also realized was that the ways that it offended me had a lot to do with my own boundaries. Some of that had to do with gender, some had to do a class with the ways that I had been raised and the manners that had been instilled in me.

Historically, campuses have been places where the intellect reigned and people were talking at an intellectual distance about the subjects that they were taking on. And over maybe the last, I don’t know, 10, 15, 20 years, particularly under the auspiciousness of identity politics. Where people started to do work that was based more on personal experience and on their own particular identities of particular minority identities, gender, sexuality, disabilities.

People are writing about their own experiences and this created a different kind of atmosphere on campuses. If somebody’s writing about their own experiences is a bit more difficult to talk in critical ways about that work or talk about it at a distance. Without seeming to a fan, the person whose work and experience is been drawn on.