The Twitter Police Beat and the Tolerant Left

When you hear complaints about academic suppression on the blogosphere, they usually emerge from the political right. A right-wing professor attempting to promote academic diversity by giving a space for conservative ideas only risks being kept off the tenure track or fired by Dean Adolf Karlmarx, over at Surrender University of New Yellowcurs-Oneonta.

It's this odious censorship that's necessitated institutions like Regent and Liberty University. Otherwise, kids will never learn the facts about America revealed by angels to only the wisest of our Hebrew Prophets—like how Jesus wrote the Constitution himself in tiger blood. (America: #Winning!)

But of course, after eliminating all their other enemies, liberals have turned on their own, blogger and University of Rhode Island Assistant Professor Erik Loomis.

You may have read him by venturing to Lawyers, Guns & Money, thinking it was some Warren Zevon fansite. (Seriously? You have a Cafepress store, but you don't sell guitar picks, Chinese menus or piña coladas? Fuck you.) It's actually a liberal blog, and there Loomis says liberal things. Often. Where people can see it and everything.

What got him in trouble was his Twitter feed. Reacting to the shootings of children at Sandy Hook Elementary, Loomis tweeted that he'd like to see NRA President Wayne LaPierre's "head on a stick." To some people, that equalled a call for a ritual beheading. Now it's Loomis' head potentially on the chopping block.

Maybe he was angry. In fact, a lot of people have come away from his Twitter feed (since deleted) with that impression. But Loomis' Twitter feed was surprisingly frank. (Full disclosure: we exchanged tweets.) He admitted to being angry that a bartender told him he couldn't use his laptop in a bar, when all he wanted to do was get a beer and work. He admitted to having a few drinks to get through writer's block. He took an honest—and almost universal—snickering amusement in admitting that he got to relevantly use the word "dildo" in a class lecture on sexual history.

To most people, this sounds like pretty human behavior. Politics makes them mad; beer makes them feel good; words like "dildo" still make them laugh inwardly, like teenagers. But you have to remember the character of the Twitter feeds of many big-time bloggers, journalists and politicos. They become so reflexively self-censored, high-minded and depersonalized that they call to mind that Mozart line about opera from Amadeus: people so lofty they sound like they shit marble. But Loomis shoots from the hip. In this context, perhaps it was easy to think of him as a renegade prof. Then again, compared to the average New York Times bureau chief's Twitter, a teen's feed would sound like the DNA of Attila the Hun, Dracula, Napoleon, Rasputin and all the members of Body Count assembled into one human playing the GWAR discography. So, Serpentor crossed with Ice-T, basically.

Of course, liberals are always going on about context. The intent behind words, the atmosphere in which they were said, the audience to whom they were addressed. So it seems particularly galling that the President of the University of Rhode Island (contact info here) issued this statement about Loomis' tweets (emphasis mine):

The University of Rhode Island does not condone acts or threats of violence. These remarks do not reflect the views of the institution and Erik Loomis does not speak on behalf of the University. The University is committed to fostering a safe, inclusive and equitable culture that aspires to promote positive change.

Who said anything about acts of violence? Somewhere a silent whistle outside normal auditory range triggered Allen Iverson, who's stuck in a tiled guest bathroom, spinning in circles and saying, "We're talkin' about tweets." Tweets, the internet's equivalent of yelling at the television with your buddies on gameday.

Even then, context is key. About the last famous time I can think of anybody's head being stuck on a stick, it was Oliver Cromwell's on London Bridge, and that got taken down in 1685. (I haven't even bothered to audit Heads on Sticks class, because it's not in the distribution requirements, because it doesn't matter.) Loomis' career is now at risk for a metaphor that had as good a chance of being put into effect as someone calling for Wayne LaPierre to be drawn and quartered like William Wallace, pressed to death with stones like Giles Corey or—Christ, I don't know—exiled to Cappadocia with his slaves to think about the nasty things he said about the Emperor.

You'd think that some ivory tower university president would remember liberals' appeals to context to explain how Michelle Malkin's whitewashing of American concentration camps seemed dangerous amidst a climate of rising anti-Arab eliminationist rhetoric. Or perhaps he'd recall liberals' disgust at Rush Limbaugh saying, "Don't kill all the liberals, leave enough around so we can have two on every campus; living fossils, so we will never forget what these people stood for." They were disgusted not just because Rush echoed old Nazi jokes about preserving The Jew in a museum or zoo as an example, but because he addresses an audience that embraces visions of new revolutions and removing the liberal cancer eating away at the people.

And maybe that college president could have recollected why Sarah Palin—a pro-gun enthusiast known for hunting things down via helicopter and adored by gun owners—marking Gabrielle Giffords and others Democrats' congressional seats with cross-hairs was a bad thing and claiming that she was "blood libeled" was worse. Or he might remember liberals' invoking the context of Gabrielle Giffords' shooting when denouncing NRA-fan favorite Allen West's statement that he'd like to take anti-war congressmen over to Afghanistan to "get shot at" a few times. Or he might remember leftist critics' belief that West's urging liberals to take their message to "the bottom of the sea" transcended mere rhetoric when considering a tendency toward violence that got him drummed of the army, after he told a detainee, "I'm going to kill you," and fired a gun a foot away from the man's head.

But, no, no—no nuance from these people who hate vivid language, beer, metaphor and dildos. Not when it's time for heads to roll because of a little imagery.

In fact, I can think of no one who summed up this phenomenon better than RedState's Erick Erickson:

The attacks are not about what [he] has said or tweeted... The attacks are about silencing an alternative opinion... Conservatives do not go out of their way to shut down and silence alternative voices. Conservatives are not out boycotting MSNBC or canceling Comcast subscriptions because of MSNBC. They are not avoiding Avery printing labels because one of the Avery family members funds left wing causes... But time and time again, the left tries to silence... They take offense, they scream, and they complain. They want to be the arbiters of acceptable voices and, slowly but surely, will whittle away all opposition in the name of "reasonable dissent." Arbiters of the opposition rarely want opposition.

Wait, sorry, I'm getting all messed up. He actually said that regarding this tweet by a RedState co-founder:

But you get my point. Way to be tolerant of all voices, academia. Some people are willing to do more to stand for others than circle the wagons just for their own.

Anyway, these were just some things I was thinking. I gotta hop on BART and head over to Berkeley. I'm late for my Human Rights Law class with John Yoo.

Image by Jim Cooke.