The Foo Fighters were not the only visitors on UT's campus Wednesday evening.
On Oct. 18, conservative political writer and radio talk show host Ben Shapiro delivered a lecture to a crowd of almost 400 in the Alumni Memorial Building (AMB). A group of approximately a dozen protesters accordingly gathered outside the building with signs opposing him and his lecture.
Shapiro visited UT as a part of his overall lecture series for college campuses across the nation. The talk, “Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings,” was facilitated by UT's branch of the conservative youth activism organization Young Americans for Freedom.
The speech departed from topics Shapiro focused on in past lectures, such as white privilege and economic inequality. Shapiro stated that he wanted to say something new and speak on topics currently on his mind.
Jonathan Thompson, freshman in kinesiology, said he was interested in hearing Shapiro's thoughts on these political issues.
“I've heard of Ben Shapiro, and I've listened to a couple of things that he's had to say,” Thompson said. “And I thought he was a pretty interesting man, and I just wanted to see what he had to say on a couple of issues.”
Shapiro was introduced by UT Vice Chancellor of Student Life Vincent Carilli. Beginning the lecture, Shapiro said he aimed to explore the deeper philosophical problems of the polarization seen around campuses and in the larger nation.
“I think something really devastating has happened to the West,” Shapiro said. “We no longer have a common vision of meaning.”
Shapiro used the touchstones of Aristotle and the Bible to explore personal meaning and purpose — touchstones, Shapiro noted, that the Founding Fathers relied upon in their drafting of U.S. documents. He listed four factors necessary to pursue the happiness the way the Founders intended: individual purpose, individual capacity, communal purpose and communal capacity.
“The Left has torn each one of these things down,” Shapiro said. “There are philosophers for 400 years who have been claiming that aspects of each of these four things have to be taken away.”
Shapiro then mirrored the first part of his lecture and specifically described how the Left has undermined traditional human perspectives of morality.
Shapiro targeted society’s move from Aristotelian and Biblical principles to the pursuit of personal pleasure — a movement he attributed to Leftist influences. A society based on personal pleasure is inherently chaotic and cannot unite behind a shared sense of meaning, Shapiro said.
For the rest of the lecture, Shapiro continued to develop his argument against scientific determinism and for Judeo-Christian-based values. In previous talks, Shapiro often included sociological data to support his arguments about the sources of inequality in society. While the lecture was titled “Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings,” Shapiro’s focus during this lecture was more ideologically-based than statistically-based.
A Q&A session concluded the event, during which Shapiro fielded questions that centered on the prominent national issues of abortion, gun control, race relations and economic equality. When answering questions, Shapiro said that he does not view his perspectives as controversial.
“My only strategy is to say things that I think are true,” Shapiro said. “If it makes you angry, then it’s your problem. I’m not coming here specifically to make people angry.”
Shapiro became the subject of protests at the University of California, Berkeley on Sept. 14 when he visited the campus for one of his lectures. On Oct. 10, Carilli sent out an email to the student body on UT’s commitment to free speech.
Shapiro noted the importance of debate in the public discourse, and when asked why he presents a college lecture series instead of a debate series, he said that no one wants to debate him.
“The big question is number one, whether the debate’s actually going to be any good; number two, whether it’s going to have a format that is worth doing,” Shapiro said.
At the start of the lecture, Shapiro asked for a show of hands from “self-identifying liberals,” which prompted a lack of hand-raising. The speaker has stated that he wishes for individuals to engage him, but the lack of challengers to his perspective in the Q&A session presented no oppositions to his ideas.
“I always fear confirmation bias, which is why I try to say things that I think are true,” Shapiro said. “I’d love to be in a situation where there are more people who disagree.”
Shapiro said that he was open to new perspectives, especially because his own are changing with time.
“I go back, and I read stuff that I’ve written years ago, and I wish I’d not written that or that I don’t think that’s true anymore,” Shapiro said. “I think that, as we grow as human beings, some of our perspectives change, and so I think that’s going to continue to happen. I don’t want to get hidebound.”
Prior to Shapiro's talk, protesters stood across the street from AMB. Cole Tipton, sophomore in sociology and one of the protesters, thought of the opposition to Shapiro as a way to stimulate dialogue and raise awareness about the media as a whole.
“Definitely with the status of the way facts are used in American news right now, anything we can do — maybe to initiate a dialogue, but more so to get people to think, think twice about what they’re hearing and what they’re seeing.”
Drew Costanzo, freshman in pre-pharmacy, said that he followed Shapiro's media outlets and believed that the protesters wrongly aligned Shapiro with Trump supporters.
“They think that Ben Shapiro's just like regular conservatives, and inflate him with 'Trumpsters,' even though he's a known 'never Trump-er,'” Costanzo said.
Shapiro has been public about his opposition to President Donald Trump. In March 2016, Shapiro wrote a column for conservative news and opinions website The Daily Wire, where he also serves as editor-in-chief, detailing why he would never vote for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Along with the various protesters, the UT Young Democratic Socialists (YDS) tabled to promote their organization in response to Shapiro's lecture.
“His whole speech today is on free speech, so we figured that the best thing for us to do is table and practice our free speech,” Matthew Muldoon, junior in statistics and sociology and member of YDS, said.
“A lot of these people on the right and the alt-right ... they supposedly like debate and like to challenge their views, and so what greater opportunity than to go to the polar opposite of our beliefs and give them some of our literature to allow them to challenge their beliefs,” Nathaniel Ramirez, junior in neuroscience and member of YDS, said.
While there was not a large number of protesters, Muldoon and Ramirez said that they weren't surprised by the amount of people who showed up to protest.
“I'm not super surprised that there are protesters, and I'm not surprised there aren't a ton of protesters,” Muldoon said. “I don't think that the campus is generally completely left-leaning when it comes to the student body, not to mention that right-wing organizations are, especially on our campus, a lot more organized than people on the left.”
“I understand why there aren't so many people here, but this is how it starts,” Ramirez said.
Max Gustafson, freshman in pre-medical exploratory, said that he would've taken the opportunity to hear from such a well-known figure, no matter his political leaning.
“I would probably take the advantage of getting to hear someone higher up in our political system, just to hear what they had to say,” Gustafson said. “I'm going in pretty open-minded, ready to hear what he has to say.”