Ath Speaker Series Kicks Off with Free Speech Talk by TV Host Dave Rubin

Speaker Dave Rubin speaks about free speech and open-minded political dialogue at the MMC Athenaeum. (Akshaya Amarnath / The Student Life)

Dave Rubin, TV personality and comedian, opened the 2017-2018 speaker series at Claremont McKenna College’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on Sept. 12 with his lecture “The Rubin Report: An Evening of Free Speech with Dave Rubin.” A self-defined classical liberal known for his political satire and direct approach, Rubin is the host of “The Rubin Report," a talk show focusing on ideas and free speech.

Rubin commenced the Ath speaker series by addressing how to disagree in discussions and talking about free speech on college campuses. He praised CMC for “bucking the trend” among colleges of being unwilling to have controversial conversations.  

“I feel like I’ve died, and gone to free-speech heaven,” said Rubin. “[College] is the place to learn how to think, where you learn how to fight for what you believe in,” Rubin said.

He added that if you don’t fight for what you believe in now, it won’t get any easier.

However, Rubin warned students not to “fight for something” simply because they’ve been “guilted into believing into it,” arguing that political discussion is necessary because politics will dictate every aspect of your life.

“‘I’m not political’ is the worst thing I ever hear,” Rubin said.

Rubin said that he believes in the right to say whatever you want, even if it means people will “heckle the shit out of [you]." However, he did criticize protesters who opposed Milo Yiannopoulos at a speaking event at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2016.

While discussing what he considered to be divisive language, Rubin recounted the story of his political awakening. He cited a clip from “Real Time with Bill Maher,” in which Ben Affleck called both Maher and the religious critic Sam Harris “gross and racist.” Rubin credits that interview with helping him realize the need to protect civil discussion, arguing that calling people 'racist' or 'homophobic' is the quickest way to stifle such discussion.

Claiming that racism is a human condition, Rubin said that while racism can be managed, people cannot “magically [wipe] it away.” He believes that while one can say an argument is based on racism or other forms of bigotry, words such as 'racist' or 'Nazi' have been thrown around so much that they have lost all meaning and that, ultimately, there are better arguments than telling someone they are “racist.”

While Rubin wants an equal playing field for opportunity in society, he argued against any sort of “othering” treatment.

“Diversity of thought is the only diversity I care about,” Rubin said.

Rubin added that he believes there “should be no laws” regarding affirmative action. As evidence for this point, he said that many cities led by Democrats, such as Chicago, Illinois and Ferguson, Missouri, have high crime rates in black communities and are economically declining despite affirmative action policies.

He also argued against taking down Confederate monuments, saying that he viewed that as a slippery slope to censorship and an erasure of history.

“Pretending that these [monuments] didn’t happen [or] pretending [that] they didn’t have meaning to people is incredibly dangerous,” Rubin said.

Rubin belives that modern ideological views are fated to be considered dangerous and offensive at some point, and therefore subject to censorship. As an alternative to removal, Rubin proposed the addition of other statues or information near Confederate monuments.

After the lecture, the floor opened up for student questions. Rubin said that when speaking to people with opposing views or even just trying to get along with them, the most important thing is to stop taking things personally.

“It’s not built into me to be wildly offended,” he said. Rubin added that both mainstream media and social media trolls try to make people feel badly about what they think, but that people “have way more in common than [they] have apart.”

Jasmine Shirrey CM '18 asked Rubin about the disconnect between talking about power and privilege, along with talking about free speech. Rubin responded that he thinks it is possible to acknowledge the truths about violent histories, in reference to Native American genocide in the United States, without judging their descendants on skin color.

He also referenced Michael Gerson, an op-ed columnist of The Washington Post, and his theory of the “soft bigotry of low expectations” – meaning the subtle discrimination of not expecting certain minorities to meet the standards set for the majority – which Rubin feels is exemplified in giving marginalized groups special treatment.

However, Shirrey shared some of her dissenting views on political correctness.

“Fraught with cognitive dissonance and contradictions, Dave Rubin's speech at the Ath tonight certainly showed how intellectual you can sound when you speak with confidence and don't acknowledge the context of the words you use,” Shirrey wrote in an email to TSL. “He used many commonly used phrases about the virtue of 'the American Dream' and many misconceptions of anti-racist schools of thought to claim that politically correct speech shuts down conversations. [W]ords like 'rape' distract from Thomas Jefferson's overall image, and power and privilege are distracting words in the free-speech 'debate.'”

Nonetheless, Patrick Coe CM '21 praised Rubin for his talk.

“It was really interesting to see how people responded to specific beliefs,” Coe said, specifically referring to audience responses to Rubin’s thoughts on Confederate monuments. “I was really impressed by how well he handled [questions] and offered to keep discourse going.”

Rubin closed the lecture portion of the evening with a discussion of the phrase “May you live in interesting times,” which he attributed to an ancient Chinese proverb. He said that people always think that the times they live in are unremarkable, but that in reality the current climate is incredibly unique.

“I hope if nothing else, you guys will be the generation that corrects some of the madness,” Rubin said.