Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Yet another one of those campus free speech/political correctness flapdoodles ...

...this time at an Ivy League university in Providence, Rhode Island which shall remain nameless. It seems a student whose real name is Emma Maier wrote two opinion pieces for the student newspaper, the [redacted color] Daily Herald, under the pseudonym (for some reason) M. Dzhali Maier. One of them, which apparently said the native Americans should be grateful for the European invasion, I have not been able to read because the Herald took it down, claiming they did not intend to publish it in the first place, but didn't get the word to the printer in time.

The other, which you can read here, accompanied by an editor's note repudiating it, recounts some largely (though not entirely) accurate history of how technological advances in southwest Asia and Europe led to Europeans being able to conquer distant lands. However, it puts a spin on this history which seems to endorse or justify colonialism and genocide as the privilege of the more technologically capable "race." You actually have to read it carefully to get that, it's not a blatant racist manifesto, but that does look to me like the subtle point.

So, there has been a lot of complaint about the diversity of the Herald editorial board and whether it is proper to publish stuff like this. It so happens that Columbus Day (or Dia de la Raza as others call it) was the occasion for Scott Lemieux to note that the late Christopher Hitchens made the same argument about how the Injuns should be grateful for the European conquest, and published it in The Nation magazine (which also was happy to run his aggressive promotion of George W. Bush's imperial conquest of Mesopotamia).

Of course, The Nation's editors didn't have to publish anything they didn't want to, nor does the Daily Herald, and one may rightly complain. However, once something is published I think the best response is to write your answer. The various statements and proclamations, from the university president and other senior officials, and from various campus organizations, don't really answer these essays so much as just condemn them by labeling them as racist, and insisting that racist statements should not be permitted at the University.

I don't actually agree with that. Racists don't think of themselves as evil, or mistaken. They have what appears to them to be a coherent world view. Not permitting them to express it on university grounds or within the formal means of communication characteristic of the university won't make their beliefs go away, it will just prevent anybody from explaining why they are wrong. So were I the university president, I believe I would have responded somewhat differently. I find this personally offensive, and many others do as well. Let them speak out. But we must be very clear that we don't suppress what we find offensive.

There are lines not to be crossed, of course, including gratuitous insults to specific people, and threats of violence. E.g., don't call people offensive names, don't hang up nooses, that sort of thing. But telling people they aren't allowed to express specific stupid ideas is counterproductive, not to mention a slippery slope. (No, the First Amendment does not govern the policies of a private university. But the rationale for it does apply here.)

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