The American Prospect article “Why Should We Care About Faux Free-Speech Warriors? Because the Koch Brothers Are Paying Their Bills” explains a lot about the constant elite media hand-wing over free speech in higher education and de-platformed conservative figures. The New York Times, The Atlantic and other mainstream publications cover college speech kerfuffles even though the stories are inherently trivial and inconsequential, basically because Charles and David Koch are paying writers and publications to cover them.
But it left me curious about why the Kochs care about campus activism and rightwing extremists getting bounced from social media. And I have a theory: it’s a campaign of misdirection.
Mostly, the Koch’s libertarian politics make sense when you consider how their personal wealth relates to their ideology. Their money comes from oil, energy, chemicals and paper and plastic products. Regulation of those waste and pollution intensive ventures would cost them a lot of money so they have an obvious financial incentive to keep government small.
But the motivation driving interest in college expression is more elusive. Koch Industries doesn’t stand to gain when conservative speakers and professors can foment hostility towards trans people and so forth without being hampered by protesters. In fact, if the protesters staged an afternoon protest, they might use Koch Industries products, like paper napkins, plastic cups and paper plates, for their no-platforming picnics.
Charles Koch Institute director of free expression Sarah Ruger told that the Chronicle of Higher Education that the institute believes free society depends on diverse thought in higher learning. And while it’s possible that the Kochs are ideological purists who are really passionate about speech getting stifled, I’m skeptical.
I think the Kochs want people riled up over campus free speech to distract them from the global warming apocalyptic event they are helping to usher in. Surely they prefer news stories debating what pronouns professors should use over investigations of the fossil fuel industry.
The Prospect argues that we need to care about the free speech war because the Koch brothers are investing so much in them. I believe the Koch brothers want us to invest our time, energy and attention to campus free speech issues to distract from real problems. By giving campus speech issues attention, we’re doing what the Kochs want us to do. The better thing is to ignore these dumb stories and save our time, energy and attention for real problems.