Aah free speech. Two deliciously click-baity words that roll in and out of your mouth like Warheads candy the morning after Halloween. If only “free speech” as is commonly used nowadays by libertarians, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the “alt-right” actually refers to the legal definition of freedom of expression. Otherwise members of these groups would not be sending death threats and hate-mail to Black Lives Matter activists, to Indigenous people, to women, to LGBTQ+ people, to Muslim people and to other marginalized groups when they speak up about, what, their own right to life, safety, and free expression as marginalized people? #notalllibertarians
Give me a break. After the events at Charlottesville, Virginia, it’s become more obvious that white supremacists are emboldened to use activist tools to promote their causes. They’re no longer afraid (if they were ever!) to gather collectively to chant in unison in support of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, whiteness, homophobia, transphobia and the status quo. Nor do they care that a woman is killed in the process, so long as they are not themselves found culpable.
In this light, it makes perfect sense that Franz Kurtzke in his campaign in the upcoming AMS by-election for VP Academic would refer to his invasive pamphlet distribution on campus as ‘activism’ and ‘social justice reform.’ Using this language is Kurtzke’s strategy to replicate ‘alt right’ strategies to gain traction and media attention: to “troll” his way into the limelight using polarizing, click-bait rhetoric and appropriate social justice language to make the same tired points. I blame Canada’s mainstream legacy media for giving the likes of Kurtzke a platform that would retroactively allow him to call himself an activist. Does being kicked out of UBC free speech club make him more relevant, somehow? Does getting talked to by the RCMP without the risk of getting shot or assaulted make him a philosophy ‘activist’ hero?
Make no mistake, I am not flattening the differences between white supremacists in Charlottesville and bow-tie wearing “philosophy dweebs” at UBC. Canada has its own rich history of vitriolic status quo enforcers, misogynists, and white supremacists with which to compare Kurtzke to. However, his participation in the AMS by-elections after his campaign of a gigantic waste of paper and ink reflects the influence of Trump-style politics that has come to power in the U.S. As the Ubyssey’s report of the VP academic debate shows, he is not prepared or genuinely interested in campus politics. He is cynically banking on the attention he has received and general campus apathy to gain power. Why? Because he can. Because the rest of us are busy with work, with our readings, with our papers, with our daily struggles. Maybe we are even getting married, or having and raising children. Might we be busy with advancing philosophical debates within our respective scholarly fields? Gasp! But alas, if we are angry about Trump, then we should—perhaps reluctantly—be paying attention to the likes of Kurtzke in our own backyard, too.
I wish I had the time and energy to unpack everything that is wrong and disturbing about Kurtzke’s campaign. I wish I could give you a nuanced take on Canadian white supremacy and setter colonialism, the suppression of marginalized people’s speech (including at UBC!), and why someone like Kurtzke would feel threatened by anti-rape culture education on campus and the Institute of Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice.
But I am tired. I have no time for the fragility of white men, who invoke psychiatry, neurodivergence, and mental illness only when it is convenient. Boo-fucking-hoo. I am tired of ahistorical defenses of Western colonialism written by professors concerned about “viewpoint diversity.” I am tired of professors denying trans, non-binary people’s identities. I am tired of the banality of everyday rape culture, white supremacy, and all other forms of injustice and oppression committed by students, police, professors, friends, and family. I’m tired of how both legacy and social media exploits marginalized people’s stories and labour, both institutions only interested in clicks and dollars.
I value my own fragility and my own mental health. I’ll be sure to vote in the upcoming AMS by-election from September 18th-22nd, and, hopefully, never visiting r/UBC ever again.
To Franz Kurtzke, if you’re reading this: have you gotten better at playing the piano any time soon? To Max Holmes: tell us why we should all vote for you, instead.
Jane Shi was a founding editor at The Talon. She studies English and Asian Canadian and Asian Migration minor at UBC. She thanks Amber Louie for gifting her with the concept of attending to our own fragility as marginalized people.