This will be my second and last addition to the public discourse concerning the Ahmed Mohammad case. Three reasons. First, I don’t think I’m going to be changing many minds. If there is anything that eight years as a competitive debater has taught me, it’s that the more you assault someone’s position, the more entrenched in it they become. The Chirkovs, the Hartzells and the Crocketts of the world are unlikely to change their beliefs (as am I); and, in the rare cases where they may, I seriously doubt a newspaper that uses a talking Tiger as my avatar will be that instance. Second, in homage to Drake, once you hit two homeruns it’s a good idea to sit back and bask in their glory. Finally, I’m fairly confident I’m convincing the only people that matter “” you, the demos, the crowd.
First up, Crockett, who is having trouble deciding if he wants to defend racial profiling or not. He writes: “When people matching that description seem to be engaged in questionable activities “¦ it is perfectly rational to be extra vigilant. This is not the same thing as racial profiling.” A question for the readers: what do you think Dr. Crockett would like us to call his system of vigilance that uses racial characteristics to assess levels of risk and take preemptive action? Crockett doesn’t seem to recognize that it is his “certain descriptive characteristics” that serve as the warrant to turn everyday activities into questionable activities. Put simply, there is nothing “questionable” about bringing a clock to school; what makes it “questionable” is when the person with the clock looks Arab. There is nothing “questionable” about wearing a hoodie and walking around at night; what makes it “questionable” is if the person wearing it is black. This is the definition of racial profiling “” a doctrine which sacrifices the civil liberties of millions for the sake of a few imagined bad apples.
Next up, Hartzell. I plead guilty, but where is the judgement? Every community, if it is going to be worth its salt, requires borders and regulations to govern its members. The Trinitones is not a club for those that hate a cappella, the Football Team wasn’t made for those who exclusively like playing chess, and, quite frankly, a liberal arts college like Trinity probably is not the place for one to peddle an ideology that has, rightfully so, been beaten into the mud. It took a lot of effort to get where we are today, so pardon me if I won’t take this insurrection lying down. If one wants me on their side, then the battle will be won with arguments advancing their position, not in appealing to the merits of free speech.
My point was never that Hartzell should be kicked out of the university. Rather, what I am saying is that he shouldn’t expect those in this university, in this community, to throw aside their beliefs, politics and ethics just because he wants to turn the clock back to a simpler time when conservative ideas held sway. If one wants the freedom to express their beliefs then they must also face my freedom to negate those beliefs with their head held high. If I vilify Hartzell, or anyone for that matter, it is only because he has decided to attach himself to ideas that I find utterly deplorable. What he calls “self-censorship” I call a testament to the strength of liberal hegemony that needs to be deepened, not relinquished.
Be honest: how much respect for free speech and dialogue should we have with Nazis? How about with ISIS? For some reason I doubt Hartzell would be content with entertaining these ideologies simply for the sake of diversity. And if he did entertain hearing them I doubt he would come to the table open to being changed. That is to say, without already having ideas he thought were worth advocating for and protecting. In an analogous though less striking way, this is me to you. If he experiences great pain in hearing his ideas called “racist” or “homophobic” or “sexist,” then I have one bit of advice for him: defend that they aren’t. If someone raises arguments that your defense of traditional marriage is stooped in Kabbalah, and you have strong arguments that it isn’t, then raise those arguments and let the public sphere decide. Is that bar too high? After years of struggle, the costs of membership into our community is that one must not be racist, sexist or generally an ass. I’d like to keep it that way. We exist in a marketplace of ideas where only strong ideas have the currency to survive; if you cannot demonstrate your ideas are built on firm foundations, then they aren’t ideas worth defending.
Finally, the ringmaster, Chirkov. Much of what I have already said applies to his piece, so I want to turn my attention to one particular point: his ideal university. It seems to me that this ideal university is a place where anyone and everyone can express their viewpoint, no matter its content or implications. Where ideas can flow freely without fear of condemnation. Am I the only one laughing that these are the same people that decry colleges for being “safe spaces?” You can’t say you embrace intellectual criticism and then decry “ideological intolerance.” I don’t know how much more clearly I can make myself. People disagree with you, they think your entire world view is warped. You are going to be offended when they debate you because, quite frankly, your beliefs offend them. Feelings will be hurt, and tissues will be used. This is what democracy looks like.
We have wasted too much time talking in generalities about how certain ideas are silenced. At the end of the day, however, there is a knowledge gap. We know only two things about these ideas unless we are told differently: a.) Some people believe in them, and b.) They are too shy to share them. Beyond this, we know nothing. We know nothing about them because their supporters have spent all of their time and effort criticizing liberal universities for their intolerance to intolerant positions and scarcely any time rigorously defending or explaining what they think is wrong with our current ideas and what ideas they wish to replace them with. Whatever happened to defending one’s ideas? All we seem to be talking about these days is the right to express them. Maybe the reason we have spent so much time talking about your freedom to speak is because the actual content of your ideas is horribly underwhelming. When I look back I might be mad that I gave this attention.