Sunday, December 13, 2015

As 'privatization' expands, the public sphere erodes

previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 13 December 2015

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-party series of essays about free speech on college campuses.

Two other forces have brought us to the point where students feel threatened on ISU’s and other campuses by “street preachers” and “unsafe” in the face of passionate disagreements and potential objectionable Halloween costumes. And they are related. The first is the incredible narrowing of the “public” as well as the tarnishing and demeaning of all things public.

“Private” is good, while “public” is bad. What public institution is held up with pride in the United States anymore? Certainly not democratic government or our courts. Even the military is forced to increasingly privatize. Public education once used to be held up, but not anymore with those who are entrusted with our public institutions working effectively to undermine them. Public lands are constantly under fire to be privatized. National, state and municipal Parks’ budgets are cut and cut until they are no longer truly public because to stay in operation they have to charge user fees and then “privatized.”

Who doesn’t love Disney World? But you don’t have freedom of speech there. Try wearing a provocative piece of legible clothing without a Disney trademark. Go to a town square, and you can start talking loud about the mayor if you want, except there are no people anymore in the town square, they are at the mall. So, go to the mall and start on about the mayor being a crook; you will be escorted out. Public might as well be “pubic” in today’s America. Facebook isn’t public, not only can people “block’ you but Facebook can violate your constitutional rights by shutting you out, except it’s not your constitutional right, you have to play by Facebook’s rules and that is their right as (private) property owners. Even the Livefyre commenting feature on the Tribune-Star’s website where this essay appears has “rules” about speech.

As we de-public our democracy, we create fewer and fewer spaces where those cherished rights can be exercised. You don’t have rights to free speech in the workplace (unless you work for the government, oh right, not even there, ask the Terre Haute police officer about his political statements contrary to the current administration’s favor). You don’t have rights to free speech in a private home at the dinner table. As a culture we might emphasize it, but it mostly only works when people are relatively equal. Your boss or your mom aren’t going to respect your mouthiness as free speech, its back-talking or insubordination and you get grounded or fired for it.

Most of those corporate sponsored SEC football schools, like Missouri, Arkansas, Florida, Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Texas A&M, are all government schools established as Land Grant Universities by the Federal Government following the Civil War to specifically further the industrialization of the country, but today, they are more like private schools because the states are getting out of the public anything business (even prisons as they are rapidly being privatized). And with that privatization comes the inevitable treating students as “customers.” And customers are treated well are they not?

I mean, if an employee is treated shabbily by a boss, we hardly care. Just look at the waning public support for unions. But if a customer is treated poorly by a business, it’s known and in some cases, some treatment is considered illegal, such as refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, or refusing to serve a customer with the wrong religion or skin color. Public institutions treat people shabbily, like the IRS, while our universities recruit students as though they are heading off to a private resort and given the debt that so many students carry even in public (government) colleges. No wonder they feel the right to exclude offensive individuals from their “private” space, especially the obnoxious and biased press.

No, it’s not the “pussification” of America nor is it the” progressivism” of higher ed or the continued insensitivity of the dwindling white power structure of academia, it’s the systematic devaluation of and shrinkage of the “public” in our society. Free speech only ever existed in the public sphere which once was ubiquitous, especially with such incredible institutions as education and a press that served the public. But today, public is an insult and everyone unquestioningly assumes the superiority of “private.”

The result is a loss of social space to exercise free speech or to have a free press. Besides, the “press” is so vilified today. For some, it’s the press that is the “enemy.” Mizzou students formed a ring around protesters to protect them from the intrusive eye of the press. Later some of them will be the legislators who pass laws that make it a crime for journalists to take pictures of factory farms to show the public the conditions of the animals that become bacon and hamburgers. As our “public” rights erode, “private” rights expand.

No comments:

Blog Directory - Blogged The Steiger Counter at Blogged