The Washington Post recently published an article describing how Charles Murray, a conservative scholar and author of The Bell Curve, met with vitriolic protests last Thursday at Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT. And not too many weeks before that, some students at Berkeley not only protested but may have been in the riots that erupted surrounding the scheduled apeech of Milo Yiannopoulos on campus. I hesitate to equate these two individuals, because Milos is anything but a scholar as a former editor at Breitbart, and Murray’s book expounded that IQ and race were equated, but both drew the ire of students at liberal universities.
I can’t think of an intelligent liberal who would not support including wide ranges of research, opinions and thought, especially at a liberal college. The whole point as I have always understood it is to be expansive in thinking and inclusive of ideas, with the theoretical goal of weeding out the whacky with concrete thinking and analysis, not by attacks of the physical kind nor shutting someone down before giving them a chance to speak.
I would bolster that argument by saying that over the course of human history, radical, socially unacceptable, and unpopular ideas and theories have ultimately been proven true and have become more than just accepted: the earth is not flat, the earth is not the center of the universe and things revolve around it, Obamacare is not equatable with death panels.
Yet, there does seem to be something more nefarious and hostile afoot today, if not in how far off a thought or theory might be, but how virulent it can be promoted and slipped into everyday conversations and acceptance. I doubt if Copernicus or Galileo would be given grants by Congress or Trump, and we kinda know what is happening to healthcare.
Myths have become alternative facts, and outright lies have become Twitter fodder and news headlines on “that” section of the media.
Let me shift to a subject matter many people, even liberals, hate: Bill Maher. Two weeks ago on Real Time, he had Milo Yiannopoulos As a guest and last Friday Jeffrey Lord not as panelists but solo interviewees. In both cases, he was courteous and polite but tough as nails in his questions and pretty much nailed them on the outrageous things they had to say and had said. Whether you like him or not, if you watched those two interviews you would be impressed at his demeanor, and I submit it is the correct way to engage with – what should I call them? – different thinkers. Don’t shun them don’t ignore them and don’t shout them down. Do have a challenging dialogue with them, politely so if they permit it, walk away if they don’t.
A campus speaker poses a very different scenario. They get the podium, maybe some questions and answers, but they are on stage looking down at the audience. Students asking questions may, and perhaps almost always are, angry and hostile when they hear something that sounds horrific or offense to them. Yes, their passion is honorable in many cases, but in no case does it expose the illogical, bigoted or misguided notions some of these speakers might bring. When viewed by conservatives – the general population, not the pundits – they see bratty spoiled rich kids or illegal looking immigrants acting out: they would like to pull them over their collective knees and spank them soundly.
When this happens it is an always-win situation for speakers like these; no matter how wrong, or bizarre, or just weird their views are, they become martyrs in the battle for mind-share that has swept this country and likely most of the world. Logic, reason, facts and analytical thinkers are lumped into the marginalized liberal elite and lose like La La Land. Clinton, and the Atlanta Falcons did.
So what’s to be done? Never, ever ban speakers. School administrations and faculties have to take ownership and responsibility for speaking engagements. No invited speaker should merely have the stage to his or herself. A faculty member or administrator (one if not more) should moderate the presentation, and they should emphasize and enforce campus policies that demand respectful behavior, courtesy and decency to any guest. That does not mean agreement with the ideas, acquiescence to principles or ethics. But those points can be made, as Bill Maher did, with stinging effectiveness in civil, if disagreeing, dialogs.
When students or faculty or anyone for that matter yells down someone they do not agree with and shuts out opposing ideas, nothing good comes of it. Such behavior reinforces stereotypes, gives red meat to talk show hosts, bloggers and certain media outlets. But most of all, it does not offer the opportunity for students to take responsibility for taking in the world around them, processing differing opinions, and learning what their own beliefs and principles are. That is what ultimately gets shut out.