Gary Epstein
And now for something completely different . . .

Free Speech, Passionate Intensity, and Stupidity

Embed from Getty Images

Most of my English teacher grammar jokes relate to commas, like the one about the panda who walks into a bar, orders and eats an egg salad sandwich, draws a gun, shoots the bartender, and exits the bar.  When queried as to his motive, he produces a zoology book with the following sentence underlined: “The panda eats shoots and leaves.”

Or the cannibals’ Thanksgiving feast when everyone takes the sleigh over the mountains and through the woods to grandmother’s house, building up a huge appetite.  When they arrive, Grandma fusses over the babies she hasn’t seen, until a hungry teenager says: “Let’s eat Grandma.”

Yes, I would tell my students, commas (or the lack thereof) can kill.

But some of the jokes relate to vocabulary, as when the teacher asks little Billy the difference between ignorance and apathy, and he sullenly responds, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

I was thinking about that last joke when I read that 12 anti-Israel Yale students, graduate and undergraduate, declared their intention to go on a hunger strike, “risking [their] bodily health and wellbeing,” if the university does not capitulate to their demands to divest its investments in weapons manufacturers. (I would have told my freshman composition students at Iowa State University, who were a long way from Yale geographically and in every other way conceivable, that the four-word phrase “bodily health and wellbeing” had three too many words, and to try again.)

By their own account, the students were driven to such extreme measures because they had “exhausted every mode possible” of making their voices heard without eliciting the demanded changes from the University.  “You flaunt free speech as a protected right on this campus but treat our free speech as if it holds no real weight.  Our free speech demands a response from you.”

Of course, the right to free speech permits one to express an argument.  It does not compel anyone else to be persuaded by it, and it does not “demand a response.”  Moreover, their situation might be analogous to that of ubiquitous little Billy, who advised his Rabbi that he no longer believed in God because God had not responded to his prayer for a bicycle and was told that God had indeed responded:  the answer was “No.”  These graduate and undergraduate students at Yale University have been educated, or miseducated, to believe that their mere expression of a demand requires capitulation to it.  One hopes that the lack of nutrition will improve their reasoning capabilities, but it will probably just make them angrier and hungrier.

They are ignorant, but not apathetic.  And that is so much worse.

For there is something far more dangerous than ignorance and apathy.  It is when ignorance is combined with youthful fervor that civil society is most at risk from violence and anarchy.  You see it everywhere.  People demonstrating who know nothing of history or geography or law.  They spout platitudes and slogans without comprehension or wisdom.  They support policies that would be anathema to them if they took the trouble to think about them, or understood their consequences.  They are so captivated by the rapture and purity of the dogma that they eschew any reasonable consideration of the effect those policies would have, if implemented.

And so we have feminists for a creed that reviles women, and gays for a society that prescribes death for homosexuality, and civil libertarians for genocide of an innocent people in a society that embodies democracy and inclusion.

Passionate morons.  Zealous idiots. Yale students.

Yeats said it better: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/ The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.”

“The worst are full of passionate intensity.”  This is why poetry has its place.  Look at them marching and think of Yeats: “passionate intensity.”  The worst.

The passionate intensity and ignorance of these young ideologues were also manifested on the other coast, in another bastion of liberal education.  Dean Erwin Chemerinsky is the Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law.  Chemerinsky is a constitutional scholar and an enthusiastic supporter of robust free speech.  He and his wife, Catherine Fisk, also a liberal professor at the law school, hosted a series of dinners for students at their home.  One of the students fortunate enough to be extended their hospitality was a third-year law student named Malek Afaneh.

Like any well-raised young lady or gentleman, she brought a microphone.  Not as a gift.

After all, even though the event was at a private residence, it was paid for by the University, and she, as a student, she reasoned, had a right to speak.  In the private backyard of a private house  of a private couple at a dinner party.

Stupid.  Passionate.

She and Ms. Fisk got into a tussle over the microphone when Ms. Afaneh started to make a speech.  It was the last day of Ramadan, and Ms. Afaneh said “We refuse to break our fast on the blood of the Palestinian people,” accusing the university of investing millions of dollars in weapons manufacturers who sold weapons to Israel.

Ms. Fisk said, “I have nothing to do with what the U.C. does.  This is my home.”  She was accused of assaulting a “Muslim Hijabi law student.” (Wondering: if it had been an Orthodox Jew, would he have been a “Jewish Tzitzit/Yarmulke law student?)

Ms. Afaneh said that she was advised by the National Lawyers Guild (which is way, way to the left of the way, way left American Bar Association) that she had a constitutional right to speak in someone else’s backyard.  As someone who studied Constitutional Law with Archibald Cox, all I can do is giggle at what passes for a third-year law student’s education at Berkeley.  Even if it were a scheduled University event at an official University facility, she would have no constitutional right to hijack it.  And even if she were right, there is something called manners, good taste, etiquette, politeness, and decency.

The Berkeley students further demonstrated that they were afflicted with none of those bourgeois things by circulating an obviously anti-Semitic flier depicting a beak nosed caricature of Chemerinsky gripping bloody eating utensils, with the caption “No Dinner With Chem While Gaza Starves.”

A representative of the National Lawyers Guild  said that Mr. Chemerinsky was not singled out because he is Jewish.  Mr. Chemerinsky said that while the caricature was “deeply offensive” and “blatant antisemitism,” it was protected under the First Amendment, unlike the unwelcome speeches in his backyard.

Afaneh issued a statement, which says, among many, many other stupid things, “I was attacked because I was simply a Muslim woman wearing a hijab and a keffiyeh in her home.”  The microphone and her actions had nothing to do with the request that she leave. 


Afaneh works as a clerk in the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which issued a statement opposed to Chemerinsky’s “violent response.”  Is it not likely that she both desired and planned the confrontation and the attendant publicity?

So now I have a multiple choice legal joke where you choose the punch line:

Did you hear about the law student who showed up with a microphone at the Dean’s dinner party in his private backyard and proceeded to harangue the guests, refusing her hostess’ demand that she desist and leave?  

  1. She’s a moron who doesn’t know the first thing about the First Amendment
  2. From the Bay to the Sea, UC Berkeley Speech Will Be Free
  3. According to the Hamas Ministry of Information, there were 11,326 Palestinian children killed in the Chemerinsky back yard
  4. All of the above.

OK.  It is not funny.  It is not the slightest bit funny.  It is profoundly sad.

The reason it is sad is that this sort of fanaticism renders itself immune to rational debate.  This . . . foul nonsense . . . that they spout has assumed the stature of articles of faith for them, not susceptible to debate.  Passion can only be opposed by passion, and not by reason. If you listen to Douglas Murray, or Jonathan Tobin, or Victor Davis Hanson, or any of a number of well-educated, well-spoken people, and you think, “If only they could address the masses demonstrating in the streets and on the campuses.”

And then you see the masses demonstrating in the streets vocally supporting rape, and kidnapping, and launches of rockets at civilian communities, and setting up military operations in hospitals, and using human shields, and stealing humanitarian aid, and hiding in tunnels while provoking aerial attacks on their people, to whom they deny access to the tunnels.

And you realize that it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference.  They are innoculated against truth.

And all you can do is remember Yeats:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.

About the Author
Gary Epstein is a retired teacher and lawyer residing in Modi'in, Israel. He was formerly the Head of the Global Corporate and Securities Department of Greenberg Traurig, a global law firm with an office in Tel Aviv, which he founded and of which he was the first Managing Partner. He and his wife Ahuva are blessed with18 grandchildren, ka"h, all of whom he believes are well above average. He currently does nothing. He believes he does it well.