Thursday, October 24, 2019

No Safe Spaces: Prager and Carolla Defend Free Speech

Your rights are in danger, but not from Trump. Our president (for now) has his conspicuous faults, but he really does not care at all what you say or think. That is not the case on college campuses and in major cultural institutions. The right to express dissenting views is under attack with an intensity not seen in this country since the days of John Peter Zenger. Iconoclast comedian-podcaster Adam Carolla and conservative talk show host and part-time symphony conductor Dennis Prager sound the alarm in No Safe Spaces, directed by Justin Folk, which opens tomorrow in Arizona, with a planned national expansion scheduled for subsequent weeks.

Prager and Carolla have an act they like to take on the road to college campuses. If you disagree with them, you are welcome to debate them, as long as you keep cool and civil. Instead, the professional activists at many universities have increasingly sought to have them disinvited and banned from campuses. It is not just Prager and Carolla who get this treatment and not just high-profile center-right speakers who face the wrath of an unhinged leftwing mob. Anyone holding dissenting views can find themselves facing strategically weaponized shame and intimidation.

No Safe Spaces chronicles several orchestrated attempts to silence mainstream dissenting viewpoints. They are all alarming to anyone who values the right to free speech. However, the threats of violence directed against Prof. Bret Weinstein, a self-described “liberal” biology professor (with tenure) at Evergreen State College was the sort of madness you would have expected from Mao’s Cultural Revolution rather than Washington State in the year 2017.

Yet, the most chilling fact reported in No Safe Spaces is the shockingly low level of support for the 1st Amendment among currently enrolled college students. More and more frequently, the desire to prohibit anything that might cause offense trumps our long-held rights of free speech and expression. Of course, a loop-hole that size is just an invitation to censor. Indeed, Prager and Carolla rightly argue on a number of occasions only so-called “offensive” speech warrants protection, because it is the only kind that will ever face censorship.

Admittedly, Prager and Carolla have their shtick worked out, but it would be a mistake to use that as an excuse to dismiss their arguments. It just means they are entertainers as well as commentators. Frankly, Prager gives the other side more opportunities to make their case than any of the usual stilted advocacy documentaries that get endless festival play. He actually engages in dialogue, where he and his discussion partners listen to each other and respond without kneejerk rancor.

If you support the 1st Amendment, you should be terrified by the climate of intellectual intolerance currently permeating college campuses. Despite some costly victories, free speech is nearly non-existent at most universities, which are supplying future generations of journalists, teachers, and government bureaucrats. The long-term abandonment of 1st Amendment principles is far more dangerous for our democracy than any of Trump’s excesses. 

Don’t say you weren’t warned. Prager and Carolla do so clearly and persuasively—and they even use a few animated interludes that are on par with some of Robert Smigel’s vintage SNL cartoons. Highly and urgently recommended for all Americans who value free speech and academic freedom of inquiry, No Safe Spaces opens tomorrow (10/25) at the Harkins Scottsdale and expands throughout Arizona, California, Colorado, and Florida over the next two weeks.