In search of the civilized in today’s anonymous culture

This column is late. Months late. Years late, actually. But I admit that it writes itself in my head almost every day. This month, there were two separate situations that require it be said rather than simply thought.

Last week, Rush Limbaugh, popular voice of far-right politics, used his position on the airwaves to insult, label and pronounce on the sexual motivations of a young Georgetown law school student who testified on behalf of the coverage of contraceptive medicine in national health care insurance plans.

And he did it not once, but at least three times. It was not, obviously, a slip of the tongue. This was a personal attack of precise aim.

Then this week, on another subject but with a similar tone, students at Columbia University, Barnard College’s sister school and one of the country’s premier educational institutions, raged online at Newsweek‘s “The Daily Beast” about the unworthiness of the women of Barnard to have the honor of President Barack Obama as their graduation speaker. The insults hurled at Barnard, a woman’s college since 1889 and a partner school of Columbia, were every bit as sexual and sexist, as degrading and as vehement as Limbaugh’s.

At least Limbaugh didn’t hide behind false screen names as did the respondents to the Barnard issue, who chose to be vile rather than accountable for their free speech.

Like Limbaugh, the students of Columbia — many of them women — who resent the fact that President Obama agreed to do the graduation address at Barnard rather than accept similar invitations to Columbia chose invective rather than analysis to register their reactions to the situation. They and the screaming respondents who answered their tirades with tirades of their own simply abandoned all pretense of intellectual development or rational response.

It is clear in both cases that “free speech” has reached a new low. The question is, Whose fault is that, really?

And the answer is that there are culprits aplenty, it seems.  Read more



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