By Mary Odum
In case my fellow Americans have been overwhelmed by all the other news during this chaotic era of descent, a white supremacist is making the rounds on college campuses inciting racism, hatred, and ethnic cleansing. His speech caused a murder and other violence in Charlottesville two months ago. He is now coming, uninvited, to the University of Florida on October 19th. The administration has waffled three times back and forth as to whether to allow it. They are now going to allow it, on the basis of overturned decisions on another campus and First Amendment free speech concerns. And they are funding the process with at least $500,000 in public, university funds.
My grandfather, Howard Washington Odum, was a prominent social scientist in the south, and was a tireless activist for racial integration. My parents taught me that racism, white supremacy, and Nazis are not a subject that one remains silent about. And I was taught that activism and science are not separate spheres. So here we go, within a bigger-picture context of energy descent.
People are confused about the rapid changes occurring in this country, but this is all predictable from a scientific, thermodynamic basis. The idea that even our politics are subject to the laws of physics is a novel perspective for most people. In my last post a year ago, I suggested that a future with less resources and more people would mean less freedom and a return to xenophobia. A year later, here we are, at a major turning point in the struggle for America’s soul. This past year has illustrated what early collapse in the United States looks like. Nature abhors a vacuum, and collapse is creating spaces allowing emergence of new behaviors, good and bad. From the top, the US racist president, Trump has cut a huge hole in the existing cultural canopy of our stagnating society, allowing emergent new growth from the bottom of new (or old) invasive ideas by people attempting to reestablish institutional racism. Unfortunately the germination rate of these invasive ideas appears high, especially if they are not weeded.
- How is a racist whose speeches have incited murder NOT a danger to the safety of students and employees of UF?
- Are we going to continue paying in money and hazard for this guy to come promote ethnic cleansing on our campus? Is it free speech to allow an uninvited racist to come on campus and give a speech with controlled ticket distribution (he is handing them out to his supporters alone)?
- Would we, as a culture, be allowing him to promote ethnic cleansing here (or anywhere) after Charlottesville if he was black or Muslim? Somehow I don’t think so. Unfortunately, the law and how we and the Supreme Court interpret the constitution are reflections of our culture, and the culture has shifted radically in the past decade, especially when we have elected a white supremacist president for our country, have given unprecedented power and identity to corporations, and protection of hate speech.
- Is the law the highest moral standard for UF’s decision-making? The law is “the least ethic.” And our Constitution was written during a time of slavery, so please don’t hold up the Constitution as sacred ground. Promotion of hate speech represents an “existential threat to civil society” from which we may not recover in an era of energy descent.
- Where does it stop, and would the UF administration be making this decision if they knew that this is the beginning of a permanent return to fascism or a totalitarian state? Since the appearances have caused a death, how many deaths are we proposing to allow so this guy can spout evil? How long are we going to fund it? The UF administration’s passive approach to this problem is to pay for security and pretend it’s not happening, while encouraging people to stay away from the event. A more active approach would be to say no and allow court challenge. I have to wonder at the passivity of the University of Florida’s administration and board of trustees.
I agree with Professor Ortiz: “I think history states very clearly and speaks very loudly on this: You can not ignore evil. If you ignore it, you are complicit. This is the lesson the people of Italy learned in the 1920s and the people of Germany learned in the 1930s. Because back then, there were individuals and leaders who said, ‘Oh, just ignore Adolph Hitler. He’s so unreasonable. People will eventually learn about how wicked he is and then they’ll go away.’”
I also agree with James Thompson when he says: “I am a free speech purist. I do a lot of free speech advocacy around here. But the fascist and Nazi arrival here, because they have so much power at the national level . . . . and because they are violent and are planning violence, they represent an existential threat to civil society . . . . I do not consider what they are planning to do here, or even thinking of being here, an act of free speech or assembly. I consider it contrary to everything about the First Amendment, as we understand it.”
It is sad to watch our country slip away. Local leaders seem to be operating on the assumption that this racism is a temporary aberration, based on their business as usual (and in some cases neoliberal) world views. But the fossil-fueled America of the last five decades is not coming back again—this is thermodynamic certainty. It is our choice from here on out what emerges locally. What kind of world do you want to live in?
Those who choose to build local, inclusive, fair communities may survive. I will be protesting this hate speech somewhere on Thursday, peacefully, in support of a rapidly disappearing civil society. I channel the spirit of Tom Petty in my protest, “Don’t come around here no more.”