1 March 2014

Let Ahab beware Ahab; or, Some things are so stupid....

...only the truly educated can believe them.

John C. Wright points out an article that appeared in the Harvard Crimson wherein the author calls for an end to academic freedom, which shall be replaced by what she terms academic justice. The guts of the article boils down to this quotation:

Yet the liberal obsession with “academic freedom” seems a bit misplaced to me. After all, no one ever has “full freedom” in research and publication. Which research proposals receive funding and what papers are accepted for publication are always contingent on political priorities. The words used to articulate a research question can have implications for its outcome. No academic question is ever “free” from political realities. If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?

Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.

Wright condemns her words as evil, and points out the huge dislogic. (One can see the absence of logic in the above passage. It is a great leap to say that because there is no such thing as full freedom there is or should be no such thing as freedom at all, but I have heard many such leaps of illogic in my time at the university) Others have pointed to the hypocrisy of the freedom for me but none for thee that this writer takes.

Both positions are true, but I would like to point out one more thing: the utter folly of this position. The academic freedom that protects those the author opposes also protects the author. In destroying their freedom, she is destroying her own. Like many academics, she believes that her position is the winning one, will win, and will ultimately rule, apparently with an iron fist, for all time to come. But that is false. Ideas come and go, they rise and fall. Her idea of justice is based on consensus, and consensus changes with the wind. When she defends the right of people to enter classes and shout down and silence unpopular opinions now, she is giving the right to future people to enter her classroom, shout her down and silence her. She will have no ground to stand on in her own defence, for she will have cut all the ground away herself. Though I disagree with others, I do not try and silence them, not merely for their own sake but also for my own. Their freedom to speak is my freedom to speak. But for this author, the contempt she heaps upon those with whom she disagrees is also and invitation for them to pour scorn upon her. For her the only issue seems to be: which side is stronger? I would advise her to add onto that question: and for how long?

The spirit of Voltaire, who said "I disagree with what you say, but I will fight to the death over your right to say it", is well and truly dead in academia. The author of this piece is not being original or innovative. I have heard such opinions many times before. This Harvard author is merely a bellwether, pointing the direction of the current wind. I imagine she feels that her side is growing in strength, and perhaps it is. Perhaps she feels their muscles when she declares that others shall be silenced by her fiat. I have no one behind me, and my words are my own. So when I tell them to beware, it is not to beware of me, for I am no threat to them. I will not tell them to beware of the establishment, for that is what they oppose, and they now fear it not. Instead, I will say let them beware of themselves: should they be victorious in this it will be their own undoing by their own hand. They will one day regret this, and the joy of their victory shall be as ashes in their mouths.

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