Psychology: The Latest Threat to Campus Free Speech?

Steven Pinker, noted Harvard psychologist and linguist delivered an address to mark Boston’s Ford Hall Forum’s presentation of their Louis P. and Evelyn Smith First Amendment Award to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Pinker’s speech draws valuably upon two of Pinker’s hats – as psychologist and FIRE adviser in offering a sharp analysis of the threat that rising notions of psychology pose to free speech. Pinker outlines the subconscious force of the “psychology of taboo”, and the theoretically innocuous speculations, such as the price of betrayal or infidelity, that “in fact are corrosive because they require people to think exactly the kind of thoughts that they should not think if they are committed friends, allies, family members.” Recognize that taboo? I’m sure. Individually, it’s a taboo that’s hardwired; the problem rises when institutions larger than the individual, such as academia “which is, at least nominally devoted to pursuing the truth no matter how uncomfortable it makes people emotionally” begins to buttress the taboo with institutional force, banning speech and inquiry of sorts that might cause discomfort, and squarely quashing first amendment rights in the process. This is the path that leads to the University of Northern Iowa seeking to ban “unwelcome electronic communications” and it’s a frightening one for sure. Read the speech to find out more.

Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

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