Free College, Academic Freedom, and Choice

Free college is apparently all the rage on the left these days. For the purposes of discussion, let’s assume we find a way to actually fund free tuition, materials, and room and board at all public colleges in America. But even if that’s the case, free college isn’t something that liberals should be quick to embrace.

For starters, what would free college do to academic freedom? If higher education is a public good, it follows that the content of higher education is a question for the democratic process. But academic freedom is about the freedom to teach and learn about topics that may not be popular. We already see skirmishes over, for instance, whether the government should fund political science or climate change research. If college was 100% publicly funded, we’d probably get more of that, similar to how state legislatures routinely try to change the content of history books and teach creationism in public schools.

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LGBT Wedding Cakes

This makes me uncomfortable. As much as I would prefer that bakeries not discriminate, I don’t like using the law to compel them to, both from a political perspective and from a legal one.

Politically, I think it’s a mistake. The argment for allowing gay marriage has long been that gay marriage has almost zero impact on straight persons. If you don’t support gay marriage, then don’t marry someone of the same sex. And many, if not all, conservatives understand that — especially in more libertarian areas. Gay marriage doesn’t change the rules for straight marriage. It doesn’t compel the clergy to officiate at gay weddings or live with a gay roommate or even be polite to gay people. But … now you can be compelled to bake a gay wedding cake. And that complicates the libertarian case for LGBT rights.

It also comes across as spiteful. Unless you think unhappy bakery owners make your wedding cake more delicious. Salty tears and such.

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Life Choices

Sharks in suits
“So if this law thing doesn’t work out, I might give professional dancing a shot.”


On Charlie Hebdo and Sacred Cows

Cross-posted from Facebook.

A few of my more liberal friends seem to be taking the stance that “yes, it’s horrible to be killed for what you say, but c’mon, Charlie Hebdo was really racist / xenophobic / Islamophobic!” I don’t speak French and have no particular insight into French media, so I can’t really say it isn’t (although I think this Atlantic article below does a decent job of explaining what Charlie Hebdo actually is).

But I would like to point out that there is a difference between racist xenophobia and a general disdain for sacred cows. An attack on an institution, its beliefs, or its leadership is not the same as an attack on a group of people. It may very well offend many within that group, but offense is not malice. It may very well be wrong, but it is not wrong because it is racist or xenophobic.

By way of analogy, suppose Charlie Hebdo published an image of Thomas Jefferson fucking a slave. Right-thinking patriotic Americans would almost certainly take offense, but it wouldn’t be fair to simply describe the image as anti-American or America-phobic. It is less an assault on the American people and more a mockery of American exceptionalism. The left, most of all, should understand that distinction.

There’s an article floating around stating that Charlie Hebdo is not satire because satire is directed at the powerful and Muslims are not powerful in France. That may be the case (see above disclaimer about my lack of Frenchiness), but there’s a difference between mocking a people and mocking the icons and ideas which hold power over them. An unemployed marginalized refugee from Syria does not hold much power, but the restrictions against the depiction of Muhammad do.

That distinction matters. Much of the left is built on the principles of both respect for people without regard to their origin, and on “speaking truth to power”. But if you conflate a people with the things they believe, then following this first tenet excludes an entire class of “power” from the second. In its own way, an obscene depiction of a revered religious figure speaks truth to power as much as a protest that ridicules Wall Street, a speech by the Dalai Lama that “offends the feelings of the Chinese people” or, more topically, a satirical movie about the assassination of Kim Jong Un.