To the Editors of the Clerk,
I read, with great dismay the article written by David Canada ‘20 titled The Supreme Court, Honor Code, and The Muppets: Reform for Free Speech and Expression. I would like to offer several responses to Canada’s argument. While the logical incoherencies in this article are many and the factual inaccuracies abundant, I have chosen a few to respond to.
Let’s start by evaluating Canada’s argument that somehow the discrimination clause is connected to genocide. Canada writes:
This same ideological imposition and belief in community morality, or majority morality, as absolute morality also led to ethnic and religious cleansing in Germany, Turkey, Rwanda, Iran, and Iraq in the 20th century alone.
When Canada offers historical evidence, he should be prepared to defend it. Vaguely naming countries and their associated human rights atrocities does not automatically make an argument. Canada cited Germany, Turkey, Rwanda, Iran and Iraq. I think he should, therefore, be prepared to defend each one of these cases in the context of his thesis. Let’s take the unbelievable logical leap required to move from a discrimination clause to genocide as a given and evaluate his claims based on evidence.
I struggle to understand why Canada cites Rwanda, especially when the facts do not line up. The Interahamwe militia relied on radio to spread support for the genocide, in which the Hutu Majority talked about the necessity for a “final war to ‘exterminate the cockroaches” (Smith). When the Interahamwe relied on radio as a means to sow the seeds of genocide, and then fan flames of support during the Rwandan genocide, it is very difficult to see why he cites Rwanda as a case study to support his thesis. In fact, when considering whether the United States should intervene by jamming Rwandan radio, “in early May the State Department Legal Advisor’s Office issued a finding against radio jamming, citing international broadcasting agreements and the American commitment to free speech” (Power). His very argument that free speech is somehow sacrosanct even when genocidal ideas are being pushed was part of the reason that the Rwandan genocide was so brutal and horrifically efficient. Indeed, systemically going through each one of these historical cases would find that any causal connection between Canada’s argument and systemic genocide is farcical, at best.
Let’s also take a moment and point out that it is patently ridiculous to suggest that a college-level policy on hate speech is at all related to government-level policy. The fact that we have behavioral standards as a college does not change government-level policy at all. All we are saying is that as part of our community, Canada signed a social contract to follow our behavioral standards. The fact that he draws a comparison between the Supreme Court and Honor Council, as if they are somehow one and the same demonstrates his naivety and lack of understanding of the code.
Is a Moral Majority even a bad thing? The Preamble of the Honor Code states that “students seek mutual understanding by means of respectful communication”. We are held accountable by the Honor Code “for our words and actions” (3.01). Indeed, the preamble that states the intent of the document Canada signed upon deciding to come here seems to make it clear that the Honor Code is steeped in Moral Majority. We have a document that tells us that there are behavioral standards to which we are held accountable. I fail to see why Canada sees a single sentence explicitly prohibiting acts of blatant discrimination as somehow more of a Moral Majority than any other, when the entire document was steeped in a Moral Majority. That in itself is a contradiction.
Canada “implore[s] us to reflect upon historical injustices committed against unpopular opinion and action in the name of public decency and perceived security”. He ends his article by quoting the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. I would first like to point out that co-opting a civil rights leader and quoting him grossly out of context to push his point forward is not only poor writing, it is an insult to the Reverend. Especially, given Canada is defending the right of a White person to “burn a cross on a black family’s front lawn”, as if somehow the societal license granted to him by a racist system is a “historical injustice committed against unpopular opinion”.
Let me make this absolutely clear. Veiled in Canada’s language of fake moderacy is the same rhetoric that has allowed unabated systemic racism. The notion that somehow cross-burners are marginalized is so patently ridiculous it does not deserve light of day.
Moral Majorities are not created equal. I fail to see the comparisons you draw between Naziism and an amendment that states that acts of discrimination by definition violate our code. Believing that there are community standards does not make me a Nazi. It does not make me a genocidaire. It does not make me a member of the KKK. In fact, these ideologies protected themselves and continue to protect themselves under the guise of free speech. This article is an insult to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, the Kurds in Iraq, Blacks who lived under slavery and Jim Crow laws, Tutsis murdered in Rwanda and so many more oppressed groups whose struggles, stories and names you have co-opted to make an incoherent point.
I expect better from a Haverford student. I expect better from a fellow community member.
With Trust, Concern and Respect,
Kevin Jiah-Chih Liao ‘18
Power, Samantha. “Bystanders to Genocide.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 01 Sept. 2001. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
Smith, Russell. “The Impact of Hate Media in Rwanda.” BBC News. BBC, 03 Dec. 2003. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
If you would like to submit an opinion, contact our Editor-in-Chief, Maurice Rippel at email@example.com
Thank you, Kevin, for this insightful response. It is everything I, and others I spoke to about the article, felt and wanted to say, but couldn’t find the words to express.
While the article makes many strong points, I feel that it misunderstands a number of points in the initial argument, attacking straw men rather than the actual article of contention.
Per the initial point about Rawanda, I believe the initial claim was more along the lines of “Genocide tends to occur when majorities feel morally entitled to enforce their views on morality.” I don’t believe this claim is at all farcical, especially in the case of Rawanda, where a large amount of the violence was conducted by the populace in general, rather than a strict militaristic structure.
Now, whether this version of the argument is strong is debatable: It seems that while the claim is true, it is true only trivially, in that most action in general occurs when large groups of people feel entitled to take said action. This argument suggests then the need to construct some form of “truth machine” which tells us which majority views are actionable and which should be opposed. I would proffer that freedom of speech forms an important part of such a truth machine.
The relation to governmental policy I agree with you on. The legal case is fascinating, but not particularly relevant, even more so as Honor Council is not a precedent-based system. That being said, there is a strong argument that the case is a useful datum insofar as we understand the conclusion not from a legal, but from an applied ethics standpoint: That freedom of speech should logically entail the freedom to morally wrong speech. When we understand the case, then, we must consider it as presented only to show that the goal of perfect freedom of speech and that of the prevention of hate speech must be understood to be in opposition. But I agree that as initially presented, the legal references are absurd.
The highlighting of that passage, I believe, reflects upon the fundamental difference between the following two actions:
Preventing a person from killing someone
Preventing a person from saying that killing can be justified
In both cases we are enforcing a communal (or personal, depending on who/what is doing the enforcing) moral outlook (that killing cannot be justified), but in one case, we are enforcing the conclusions of that outlook, in the other the holding (or expressing, at least) of that outlook.
The idea is that freedom of speech holds a special place in a system of ethics as an important part of the process by which ethics can be refined or changed over time, so that the enforcement of a moral majority’s conclusions is far more justified than enforcing the moral majority’s outlook.
While I believe the MLK quote was not at all properly applied, I must object to the other claims you make in that section. Namely, that Canada has a “societal license granted to him by a racist system” to burn a cross on someone’s lawn. The very fact that Haverford’s honor code prevents discriminatory speech due to majority opinion suggests to me that, at least in this microcosm, people don’t have societal license to do such things. And rightly so, do not get me wrong. If you are referring to the legal conclusion, I would argue that that is legal, rather than societal, license.
Furthermore, to say that such a comparison fails because it is not a historical injustice is to miss the point of the analogy, in my view. The point is to show how important a truth machine, and thus freedom of speech, separate from majority views is. An analogy between two identical things serves no purpose. The point here is to ask if the differences between views not agreed upon by other students and views that were historically ignored can be meaningfully distinguished in a way that allows one to ban one and not the other, without the presupposition that one’s own views are correct.
I feel you fail to realize inhomogeneous distribution of views: The claim that since most people in a population hold some view, that view is not a minority within any subset of that population is trivially false. Consider the claim “Black squirrels are awesome.” Now, let us assume that the majority of the US population disagrees with this claim (which is likely true, in the sense that the average person probably holds no strong attachment, positive or negative, towards squirrels, black or otherwise). Now, a person who didn’t much care for squirrels would not be a minority in the US population, however within the Haverford population, they would. To claim that it is thus impossible to marginalize such views because they form a majority is to severely misunderstand statistics.
Now, you will probably point out that my example claim is not at all similar to the class of claims discussed in this article. This is on purpose, I assure you. By using a claim that is devoid of moral character, I hope to illuminate the flaw within the statistical conception without muddying the water with whether or not the claim is actually a moral one.
I feel that your last paragraph was very well written, in the sense that it perfectly encapsulates much of your argument. It also is extremely flawed. You assert, and I agree, that not all moral majorities are created equal. However, I would argue that the validity of a moral system cannot be presupposed when it is being used to suppress the opinion of contrary views, as the right to expression of contrary views is an important part of the truth-determining process, and as such it must be asserted before a view can conclude itself superior to other views.
Thank you for your thoughts. You write that:
“Genocide tends to occur when majorities feel morally entitled to enforce their views on morality.”
But we clearly see here a misapplication of historical evidence and a direct contradiction to Canada’s thesis (and your defence of it). Rwanda was clearly in contradiction to Canada’s thesis. Also, recall that I’m asserting that moral majorities are not created equal. Do you honestly believe that a moral majority that advocates against hate crimes, racism, sexism, transphobia and homophobia is a slippery slope that leads to genocide? That is a serious logical leap that requires a lot more evidence and rhetoric than either you or Canada have provided. That is the crux of my argument. When Canada makes an explicit, or implicit connection between our discrimination clause and genocide, that is a claim he should be prepared to defend. These comparisons should not be tossed around lightly.
You write that I am defending “that Canada has a ‘societal license granted to him by a racist system’ to burn a cross on someone’s lawn”. That is factually incorrect. In the original text, I say he is defending such a system.
“The claim that since most people in a population hold some view, that view is not a minority within any subset of that population is trivially false.”
That was not at all what I claimed. I claimed that the Honor Code is steeped in the same majority-morality that Canada claims only applies to the discrimination clause. If he is against that one clause, he should be against the entire Honor Code as that is the very intent it was written with. At no point did I draw comparisons between beliefs held by a larger population and a smaller population.
“However, I would argue that the validity of a moral system cannot be presupposed when it is being used to suppress the opinion of contrary views”
The notion that the Discrimination Amendment has been used to “suppress the opinion of contrary views” is in itself a claim that requires serious defending. No honor council jury has ever found any confronted party guilty of violating the social code based on the Discrimination Amendment. The notion that Muppets was punitive is also a claim that I dispute. You and Canada both make the assertion that the Discrimination Amendment is somehow impeding on this campus’ free functioning. Citation needed.
I ask you this: Is Blackface “an important part of the truth-determining process”? If you call someone the ‘N’-word, is that “an important part of the truth-determining process”? If you see me walking on Founders Green and you call me a F** or a c****, is that “an important part of the truth-determining process”?
There are certain elements that we as a community have determined to contribute absolutely nothing to discourse, but marginalize, hurt and alienate vulnerable members of our community. I find it very hard to argue that hidden behind acts of overt racism is some form of contribution to campus discourse.
Thanks for your thoughts, again.
I apologize for my misunderstandings of your article. You bring up a fair point regarding the overreach of such a historic claim. I am willing to fall back to what I view as a more defensible statement, which I believe serves the same purpose in my argument. As I am not a historian (nor have I done research in preparation for my response) I admit I am not able to defend this claim to a sufficiently rigorous degree (though I am not saying that it is false, simply that I overreached in asserting it). The improved statement I would propose would be:
“Actions (both good and bad, as well as neutral ones) tend to occur when large groups of people (such as majorities) feel entitled to act.”
I also hold that Rawanda was not in opposition to his thesis. Even if it showed that free speech could lead to genocide, that doesn’t defeat the claim that repressing free speech leads to genocide.
I feel that the absolute morality of a moral majority cannot be asserted as a defense of rejecting statements it opposes. That, I feel, is the crux of my argument, and, I feel, our disagreement.
I see your point in regards to the license. I misread that section. I would still like to hold my point that the license directly being discussed was a legal one, not a societal one, however.
The section on statistics was in rebuttal to your claim: “The notion that somehow cross-burners are marginalized is so patently ridiculous it does not deserve light of day,” not to your claim that the honor code is constructed on the basis of moral majority.
As for the idea that the entire honor code is based off of majority morality as a concept, here I must step back from defending Canada’s writings, as I feel I can only offer this response as my own (though Canada may agree, I don’t know):
I see a class of things a moral majority should be allowed to dictate, and a class of things that they shouldn’t. The statements of individuals (outside of a very small number of statements which concern themselves with objectively false scientific or otherwise empirical claims like “smoking is not bad for you” or climate change denial) fall into a class of statement I believe shouldn’t be restricted by the moral majority.
Citing page three from the muppets (page 13 near the top, here’s your citation, sorry it’s not in MLA), Bert and Ernie allege assault by fellow students, assumably because of the events of the muppets. The case states there is no reason to doubt their report. As far as I can tell, looking at case abstracts released in the surrounding period, there was no followup on this incident. This may not, strictly speaking, be Honor Council’s fault, but a result of reluctance by Bert and Ernie to pursue a social trial in regards to the event. However, I would proffer that this is likely because they assumed that their attackers had the weight of community opinion behind them, and so such a trial would be futile. While this fear may have, I sincerely hope, been unfounded, looking at the state of modern discourse, where the ethics of “punching a Nazi” is a serious topic of debate (admittedly more than a decade after the trial) I see signs they may not have been.
Admittedly, this is not exactly what you asked for, but I feel that the allowance of immoral acts as they agree with community opinion is equally a threat as the prevention of free speech.
I would like to preface the following part of my response with the caveat that I strenuously disagree with much of the actions I will be defending.
With regards to the muppets being punitive: If the purpose of the writings was not punishment (and I would argue that forcing someone to do something they do not want to do as a result of a prior action they took which one disagrees with is inherently punitive, as it is applying an extrinsic negative consequence (since if they didn’t want to do it, it is likely that it will reduce their utility function) to an action, reducing its favorability. Whether that was the intent, or if intent is significant is an interesting argument) then the purpose of the assigned tasks seems to me to be education. Education with the intent of causing the individuals to reach the same opinion on a topic that the community has, while the “how you’ve changed” essay seems to encourage them to reach a specific conclusion. This seems dangerously close to indoctrination. So if it’s not punitive (which I still contest it is), I raise an objection to indoctrination.
I feel that the statement has been justified in personal experience, which I admit is not the best metric, but if I may proffer: Every year, first years gather to discuss a number of topics, including cultural appropriation.
I, as an international student (US Citizen raised abroad) hold a view very much against the concept. My Indian friends loved my mother’s dahl, for example (though they did say, and my mom and I agree, that it was very inauthentic). While I was not punished for expressing this view, it was made clear to me that disagreement with the status quo was not considered a good thing to do at these meetings.
I feel like this actively shows the use of that clause to suppress views against it. I apologize for the fact that I only offer my own observations in this case, though my conversations with others who share my view indicate that their presentations were similarly not particularly concerned with leaving time for rebuttal.
While I respect the right of Haverford, per my entrance into a contract through the signing of the honor code, to mandate this, I certainly feel like it’s not particularly morally right of them to do so.
I absolutely agree with you that calling someone a “f*g” or “c*nt” (I only self-censor here because I am concerned that the website’s censoring algorithm might complain if I don’t) doesn’t add anything to discussion. The examples I have pointed to above to are very different, though.
But with regards to “f*g,” “c*nt” and similar, can I find cause sufficient to move them out of the class of protected speech? What trait causes them to move out of that class?
I would suggest first that they don’t carry a message. “F*G!” isn’t an argument, proposition, or piece evidence of any sort. Then again, neither is flag burning. A painting doesn’t present a cogent logical form. So we can dismiss the fact that it doesn’t contain meaning in any formal sense. (though we leave open the possibility of banning one and not the other, we cannot due so on the grounds of possession of formal meaning)
So is it fundamentally a property of a set of words? I feel our use of the words in the context of a broader argument defeats this.
Is it that it offends or insults? I feel that Canada’s argument was a valuable addition to campus discourse and part of the truth-finding process, whether or not you agree that it is a correct one, and you yourself said it was “an insult.” As for offense, I feel that arguments that we both agree with like “Being gay is not wrong” would offend some societies and people.
Those people are wrong. Offense does not preclude value. Being gay isn’t wrong. If you’re offended, deal with it. But we can’t say “we’re offended, and we’re right,” since you just assumed the validity of your opinion over theirs as a reason to censor their sentiments and not yours. Which I hold one cannot do.
I feel like deciding which statements are part of determining truth, excepting *perhaps* statements which do have meaning, are empirical, and are directly false requires the acceptance of premises that can only be taken to be true after taking freedom of speech as an ideal. (the ability to be right about things is only possible after accepting freedom of speech, and thus I can’t use it to argue against the freedom of any speech).
Note: I am not arguing that they do make a contribution, just that we cannot preclude them on the basis of them not making a contribution.
Also a good citation, the Clerk’s own Nov. 1 2016 article entitled “We Are the 7%: Conservative Students and Stigmatized Discourse at Haverford”, which refers in its body to a study indicating that conservative students at least *felt* stigmatized for their beliefs.
It’s possible to disagree with someone without insulting their character or intelligence. Whatever you may think of David’s article, he has been nothing if not respectful of others’ opinions. You would do well to afford him the same courtesy.
Hi Ian, I disagree with the notion that we can separate David’s respectful attitude towards respondents from his article’s content. His piece was inflammatory and made a lot of hurtful, illogical connections. That being said, I do not see where I insulted his character or intelligence.
Do you not think the following quotes from you count as insulting David’s character?
“Veiled in Canada’s language of fake moderacy is the same rhetoric that has allowed unabated systemic racism.”
“…demonstrates his naivety and lack of understanding of the code”
There are several other quotes in the article that are at least verging on being insulting and disrespectful towards a fellow community member:
“This article is an insult to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust…you have co-opted to make an incoherent point.”
“I expect better from a Haverford student. I expect better from a fellow community member.” [Very patronizing given the tone of your article]
“While the logical incoherencies in this article are many and the factual inaccuracies abundant”
“co-opting a civil rights leader and quoting him grossly out of context…is not only poor writing” [Why did you say this?]
More generally, I strongly disagree that his piece was inflammatory and he deserves the lack of respect you and other students are apparently proud of displaying.
1. He made a nuanced and principled point that is backed by the Supreme Court. He did not insult anyone. He repeatedly said he thinks blackface and other racists acts are terrible. He tried tremendously hard to engage with critics. Despite your needless and disrespectful provocations, his response article to this is also painstakingly respectful and engages with your central points. Do you think it was easy for him to do that, especially considering the torrent of personal attacks he has been facing online?
It is absurd to accuse him or his piece of being inflammatory. I don’t agree with it, but not everything I disagree with it inflammatory.
(FWIW, by far the most inflammatory thing published so far has been you saying his first article is an insult to Holocaust victims. I expect you to defend the claim itself, but surely you see that regardless of whether you are right or not, it’s inflammatory?)
2. Let’s say you’re right about everything in this article. What do you think will happen if people treat him disrespectfully and mock him on social media? [Shout out to the Haverford student who posted a Clippy meme on the Facebook comment section of the Clerk telling him he doesn’t know what the f*ck he’s talking about and should take a Godda*ned seat + the 11 other students who liked this comment]
Do you want to persuade him of the truth of your convictions, or do you want to drive him away from them? Do you think he’s such a monster that he’s unsalvageable?
I suggest you read WaPo’s account of how Derek Black, a prominent and precocious self-identified white nationalist, the son of the founder of Stormfront and the Godson of David Duke, turned his back on white nationalism and did a PhD on early Islam. Black’s views were found out in his college but eventually his fellow students decided to persuade him rather than shame him. He soon disavowed the world view he grew up with.
Hi Liberal Student,
Thank you for your comment. You write that “I strongly disagree that his piece was inflammatory”. I disagree. While his tone wasn’t inflammatory, his content was. Regardless of what you think about my tone of writing, consider this: beneath the layers of respect in his writing, he has compared the beliefs that underpin part of the code as similar to beliefs that sparked multiple crimes against humanity.
This is not a comparison to be drawn lightly.
I have been involved with many discussions on this campus that revolve around freedom of speech and our Honor Code. I have had discussions on this campus with people I disagree with. Not once has someone ever even insinuated that the same beliefs that underpin the Discrimination Amendment are the same beliefs that led to crimes against humanity. When these comparisons are evoked in a single sentence with no justification, I concluded that this was an inflammatory piece. While you may disagree, I viewed this article as incredibly inflammatory. It is these comparisons that led me to note that this article was an insult to the marginalized groups he co-opted. That is not an insult to his character. I stand by that comment.
It was not my intent to persuade, but to respond. My intention is not to convince David of my beliefs. My intent was merely to express how I (along with many of my fellow students) feel in light of an article that I feel made an incredibly offensive comparison. I stand by my original comments. All I have done is unmasked what I believe to be the intent of his inflammatory rhetoric wrapped in layers of kindness.
I ask you to consider the fact that my rage is the rage that many marginalized students feel for whom the Discrimination Clause has afforded some form of limited protection.
Sorry for the delayed response. Jordan Acker said many important things below quite nicely, but I want to respond to you more directly as well. I hope you still see this.
I stand by my statement that David’s original article was not an inflammatory piece. He gave a brief explanation on why he brought up those examples of genocide . You were outraged by it, but your piece doesn’t have any coherent argument against it besides an argument from incredulity; your Rwanda example about how the genocide was conducted via radio has little bearing to David’s point (see his latest piece for more details). I am not saying that I agree or disagree with David (that is beside the point), but he certainly offers much more support for his position in his original piece than you do in this piece.
But more importantly, echoing Jordan below, I am disturbed by your actions in relations to discourse decency at Haverford:
1. “I ask you to consider the fact that my rage is the rage that many marginalized students feel for whom the Discrimination Clause has afforded some form of limited protection.”
I have in fact considered it. It would be hard not to consider it, given this piece, many of the comments on David’s first piece, and the comments on the Clerk’s Facebook page. However rage is not a “Get out of Jail Free” card. This is particularly the case about something as small as a frosh’s piece about an Honor Code change that has no chance of happening anytime soon.
I would also like you to consider that you and many other marginalized students are not the only ones feeling rage around this incident. I personally feel very angry and upset that your piece had so many personal attacks. I feel very upset that on Facebook a student basically told David to shut the f*ck up.
2. “It was not my intent to persuade, but to respond.”
I suggest you rethink your intent then.
What does this piece lead to? It damages the discourse at Haverford, not just around this issue but around all other similar issues. By resorting to personal attacks to someone engaging in good faith, this piece makes it harder for people to state any opinion outside of an increasingly narrow window. Going against the opinion of people may incite someone to call you a racist, an accusation you came close to in this piece and no one at Haverford would like to see attached to themselves. I am commenting anonymously precisely because of pieces and attitudes like yours.
Having a healthy discourse is in everyone’s interests, not just the people who argue for free speech. As just one example: consider that some of your beliefs are wrong. Some of your tactics are wrong. Some of the way you think about things is wrong. The same goes for David and me and everyone else. Criticism is an important way we can learn. The closer you come to deciding that criticism of your position is inherently dangerous, the more you end up wrong and doing harm to your cause, especially as an activist. In fact, I posit that as an activist you have a special duty to be open and welcoming to criticism, even and especially if you disagree with it.
David’s words could even help you, if you try to do so. Not because he’s right about everything and you are wrong about everything, but because the truth might (often) lies in between, and you don’t know when it does until you try to engage with people rather than trying to articulate your instinctive feelings.
Beyond just damaging the discourse, this piece polarizing the attitudes of those reading it. That you seem to not care about being persuasive shows. The people who already agree with you nod along as you call his article an insult to Holocaust victims and salt your piece with insults to his character, intelligence, and writing (see my examples above). The people who agree with him obviously get even more entrenched in their position because of this. It’s hard to tell about the people in the middle, but the comments and my own experience suggest that at the very least you’re not winning over any people. I don’t need to spell out for you why trying to persuade people of your position is important, especially for social work.
As a data point, I disagree with many of David’s points, but your piece makes me want to agree with him more.
 “I implore us to reflect upon historical injustices committed against unpopular opinion and action in the name of public decency and perceived security. In my home state of Louisiana, the 1896 Supreme Court ruling Plessy v. Ferguson set a precedent for over half a century of legal Jim Crow segregation in the South in the name maintaining racial purity and ensuring security. This same ideological imposition and belief in community morality, or majority morality, as absolute morality also led to ethnic and religious cleansing in Germany, Turkey, Rwanda, Iran, and Iraq in the 20th century alone. In these cases, the opinion and bias of the majority defined institutional standards, suppressing individual liberties in the name of security and moral righteousness. Unfortunately for racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in these cases, subjectively benevolent intentions did not guarantee positive yield. To clarify, while these events themselves are not comparable to the situation at Haverford, the same foundational problem persists. As in these other historical examples, majoritarian morality is masquerading as an absolute one, threatening freedom of expression with official Honor Council sanction and, thereby, silencing dissent according to its subjective determinations of offensiveness.”
Hi Liberal Student,
Let me begin by saying I do not believe I ever acknowledged that I insulted David’s character nor his intelligence.
That being said, if you personally do not think it is inflammatory to even draw a comparison between the Discrimination Amendment (protecting marginalized identities on campus), and acts of atrocities that have led to why this amendment was necessary, then I’m sorry. I do not have any more words for you. Have a good night.
This doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere, so I will try one last time to engage in a conversation rather than two people monologuing at each other.
Kevin, I understand that you are upset and why that is the case. I know you think the comparison itself is offensive. That is a defensible position and I understand where you’re coming from. I read your piece carefully. I don’t agree with many of David’s points. Having the attitude that I am such a moral inferior that my arguments are not worth engaging with, just because I asked you for justification for your argument, does not do you or anyone else any favors.
I didn’t say whether I agree with David or not about the comparison, just that he at least provided some justification for it. You attempted to argue against those justifications but your argument consists of an argument from incredulity and anyone who is not immediately convinced of it is not worth talking to. As you yourself said, you are not even trying to persuade, you are just trying to articulate your feelings. Your feelings may be right, but you still have to explain *why*. As a matter of fact, I have no idea whether David is correct or not, because I have no in depth knowledge of genocide. Have you considered that David’s position might simultaneously be offensive to you and correct? Empirical claims about complicated things like genocide are not disproven by saying they’re offensive.
My other points stand even if the piece was inflammatory and I am wrong about all the above. Writing an op-ed that is almost anti-persuasive because your intent is to articulate your feelings is often not a good goal. You would do well to understand where I or Jordan Acker or Ian Fisher or Anonymous Haverfordian are coming from. Repeating things you’ve already said without trying to understand why people disagree with you in the first place doesn’t do anyone any favors. Even if you are 100% right about everything and we’re 100% wrong about everything, it’s still helpful for you because understanding our positions means you can advocate for your causes more effectively. That is probably your end goal, right?
Unfortunately I think this willingness to overlook basic decency of discourse in favor of perceived indecency of content represents a fundamentally dangerous notion, one which is at the crux of the issues we have on campus where people find the environment politically stifling. I, too, felt that David’s arguments were flawed in significant ways, and I understand how someone can feel angered or hurt by them. I even get how frustrating it is to see worrisome arguments whose dangers are hidden because they are “wrapped in layers of kindness.”
However, the only way to foster useful discourse and dialogue is to create an environment where the only prerequisites are to converse in a respectful tone and to listen thoughtfully. Yes, we also need to keep to some level of decency so that no one is levying direct insults despite a pleasant tone of voice. But all of the hurt that you found in David’s article came from an intellectual unpacking of complex ideas, not from some sort of direct slur or attack. Even if we agree that a lot was off base, clearly he expressed his thoughts painstakingly and carefully, and through an intellectual means.
If outward basic decency and respect is no longer the only prerequisite for participating in a thoughtful dialogue, and instead the ideas we bring to the table must satisfy some nebulous standard of decency in order to deserve a respectfully mannered response, then how can we expect people to feel willing to bring their ideas to the table? One can ensure that they act respectfully, but how can they ensure that their ideas meet this content standard without bringing them to the table in the first place?
Thank you, Jordan.
First, I still do not see where I acknowledged insulting David’s character or his intelligence. That being said, just because David encrypted his problematic comparisons in layers of rhetoric, does not change his implicitly problematic comparisons.
If my bluntness is too much for you, I apologise. Have a good night.
Thank you Ian for saying exactly what I was thinking.