To Disagree Is Human

At the Washington Post Fareed Zakaria rises in defense of free and open discourse:

We’ve been here before. Half a century ago, students were also shutting down speakers whose views they found deeply offensive. In 1974, William Shockley, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who in many ways was the father of the computer revolution, was invited by Yale University students to defend his abhorrent view that blacks were a genetically inferior race who should be voluntarily sterilized. He was to debate Roy Innis, the African American leader of the Congress of Racial Equality. (The debate was Innis’s idea.) A campus uproar ensued, and the event was canceled. A later, rescheduled debate with another opponent was disrupted.

The difference from today is that Yale recognized that it had failed in not ensuring that Shockley could speak. It commissioned a report on free speech that remains a landmark declaration of the duty of universities to encourage debate and dissent. The report flatly states that a college “cannot make its primary and dominant value the fostering of friendship, solidarity, harmony, civility or mutual respect. . . . it will never let these values . . . override its central purpose. We value freedom of expression precisely because it provides a forum for the new, the provocative, the disturbing, and the unorthodox.”

The report added: “We take a chance, as the First Amendment takes a chance, when we commit ourselves to the idea that the results of free expression are to the general benefit in the long run, however unpleasant they may appear at the time.” It is on this bet for the long run, a bet on freedom — of thought, belief, expression and action — that liberal democracy rests.

What is sad is that he feels that he needs to but a sort of folk Marcusism has caught hold that is very, very dangerous.

There is no single repository of truth. Not the DNC. Definitely not President Trump. Not the writers at And certainly not your Facebook friends. IMO the best strategy for understanding the world around us is by casting a wide net.

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto

1 comment… add one
  • steve Link

    I still don’t have a feel for how often this stuff really happens. I know that the press loves to cover it, and the right wing media loves to make a big deal of it. What I also know is that many prominent former Reagan and Bush official hold positions in academia, and they don’t have problems. Many prominent conservative thinkers hold positions in academia without issue. AFAICT this stuff happens occasionally when a prominent speaker comes to some liberal arts college or university. I am also unsure about wha happens on the right. I am pretty sure right wing schools don’t have very many prominent liberals speaking.

    So, while I hope this stuff stops, I am not sure that is as big of a problem as many contend.


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