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Bret Stephens Has A Real Bedbug Up His Ass Today

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Bret Stephens has spent the last three years at the New York Times defining himself as a champion of "academic freedom." He has railed against political correctness and snowflakes and most of all, safe spaces. He has insisted that in order for us all to be truly free, victims of sexual assault must listen to the thoughts and feelings of those who don't think sexual assault is that bad; that female students must listen to sexism, that students of color must listen to racist bullshit, and that "students with traditional religious values or conservative political views" must feel free to express themselves, no matter how insulting their views are to other people.

Indeed, he has also warned that all of this PC culture on campus could lead to innocent professors losing their jobs.

In the name of being "safe," the job security of professors and administrators has been put at increasing risk — lest they espouse, teach or merely fail to denounce a point of view that contradicts the political certitudes of the moment.

Which makes Stephens's reaction to Dr. Dave Karpf, an associate professor at George Washington University, making a mild joke on Twitter yesterday about Bret Stephens being a bedbug, all the more poignant.


Rather than ignoring it, taking a break from the internet, saying something snarky back — the options most people choose when they are insulted on Twitter — Stephens decided to instead shoot off an email to Dr. Karpf asking him to come to his house and call him a bedbug to his face, in front of his wife and children, and copied Karpf's university provost on it. You know, so that provost would know just how mean this guy was being to Bret Stephens, right in front of God and everyone.

Apparently the punishment for being joking about Bret Stephens on the internet is having to hang out with Bret Stephens in real life. Rather an effective deterrent!

After providing Twitter with ample entertainment for the evening, Bret Stephens woke up and decided he had enough. He is taking his toys and going home to his safe space, where no one but his wife can call him a bedbug.

Following that, he went on MSNBC to talk about how Dr. Karpf was not merely making a very mild joke about Bret Stephens, but rather trying to do a totalitarian regime to him.

Now, I would just like to rewind for a second and go back to some of Stephens's comments praising the University of Chicago for its policy against "trigger warnings" and "safe spaces."


"Concerns about civility and mutual respect," the committee wrote, "can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community."

Those are fighting words at a time when professors live in fear of accidentally offending their own students and a governor needs to declare a countywide state of emergency so that white supremacist Richard Spencer can speak at the University of Florida. They are also necessary words. That isn't because universities need to be the First Amendment's most loyal guardians — in the case of private universities, the First Amendment generally doesn't apply. They set their own rules.

Instead, it's because free speech is what makes educational excellence possible.

So people should have to listen to Richard "Actual Fucking Nazi" Spencer share his ideas, they should have their tuition funds go to line his pockets, and they should be fine with this, but making a joke about Bret Stephens being a bedbug is a bridge too far.

Let us go back, again, to the commencement speech Stephens gave at Hampden-Sydney College, an all-men's school in southern Virginia, decrying the inevitable slippery slope "safe spaces" would lead to:

After all, if a college or university should accept the principle of a "safe space" in a single designated room, why should that same principle not extend to the classroom, the lecture hall, dormitories, college newspapers, chat rooms, social media and so on?

If we want to accommodate the sensitivities of our fellow students, shouldn't that accommodation extend not only to what we say around them, but also to what we say anywhere — or what we allow to be said anywhere?

And if it is not O.K. to say certain things, anywhere, should we even think them? Wouldn't we be better off if the ideas that can hurt people's feelings or trigger their anxieties never even popped into our heads in the first place?

I'm sorry to say that the process I'm describing — Orwellian though it seems to me, in that it turns supposed victims into moral bullies — is increasingly becoming a dominating fact of life on colleges and universities across America.

Would we be better off if no one were even allowed to think that Bret Stephens is a bedbug? I don't know, that seems pretty Orwellian to me.

And here is what he wrote in an article titled "Free Speech and The Necessity of Discomfort," in which he railed against liberals who thought that a New York Times profile of a Nazi who likes cooking and watching Seinfeld and just being a normal middle class guy was perhaps a tad too fluffy:

To hear such speech may make us uncomfortable. As well it should. Discomfort is not injury. An intellectual provocation is not a physical assault. It's a stimulus. Over time, it can improve our own arguments, and sometimes even change our minds.

In either case, it's hard to see how we can't benefit from it, if we choose to do so. Make that choice. Democracy is enriched if you do. So are you.

Bret Stephens demands a lot of people. A whole lot. He demands that people who belong to historically oppressed groups be patient with and tolerant of those who wish to continue oppressing them. That they must listen to their ideas and do their best to encourage these asshats to "express themselves," even when "expressing themselves" means insulting other people. If you are a member of a marginalized group and you choose to sometimes strategically avoid people who say terrible things to and about you, for your own sanity, Bret Stephens will be right there to tell you how you are murdering the First Amendment.

And yet, given all that he asks others to put up with, being called a bedbug on Twitter is what sends him over the edge and makes him quit the platform — instead of handling this in the mature way, by starting a dance craze:


Dance clip: The Bug www.youtube.com


If this post upsets Bret Stephens in any way, I hope he knows that I would be more than happy to come and call him a bedbug to his face. However, it will cost him a fair amount of money and he will need to pay for the whole leather get-up. But no kids, because that's messed up.


[Twitter]

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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