I’ll be honest. After three back-to-back Trinitonian issues about the gold-mine that was the Prejudice Today panel, I truly thought I had my fill. And after wasting my own blood and treasure a much less glorious debate on one notorious Facebook group, surely then I was finished. But, lo and behold, a voice of considerable ethos dotted across the newest issue. What sort of scholar would I be if I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity to test my mettle against the likes of Dr. Crockett? Given his rousing appeal for the merits of open discussion I feel it necessary to remind him: you asked for this.
I have been advised by minds who I respect to always attack the most profitable argument made by my opponents; as such, Dr. Crockett’s argument goes as follows. First, liberal universities are becoming enclaves for a certain type of thought that is corrosive to the free expression of ideas. Second, while the vanguards of this thought decry systems of domination, they simultaneously colonize the public sphere by stifling alternative viewpoints. Third, this colonization results in a spiral of silence. Finally, well-rounded voices of reason are pushed away from the discussion and we are forced to accept that what happened to young Ahmed Mohamed was an instance of Islamophobia, instead of recognizing the incident as a high profile case of overreaction.
The first thing Dr. Crockett misses with his analysis is the very nature of democracy. Whose ideas are being silenced, and where is this silencing happening? Perhaps liberal art colleges are communities that breed limits on discourse, but I can scarcely think of any community that doesn’t. All communities are constituted by sets of rules that govern the conduct and shape the identity of its members. Some rules of a community are incredibly important, such as doctrines against violence. Others are much more trivial “” the compulsion to wear clothes. A prohibition on making excuses for racial discrimination lies somewhere between these two poles. The readers can decide where. I suggest that those who think “political correctness has gone too far” either venture outside the Trinity Bubble or read any of the comments on Youtube.
With supreme irony Dr. Crockett argues that we need to appreciate how far we have come in the way we dole out our racial punishments. After all, 120,000 Arab-Americans could have been incarcerated. Maybe this “glass-half-full perspective” should be applied to conservatives’ bemoaning. No one is being expelled or put in prison; they are simply being told they are wrong. What we witnessed at the Prejudice Today panel was not a revolt against the merits of freedom of speech, but rather the last muffled voice of protest from an ideology finally being stomped out. In short, no one (yet) opposes your freedom to speak, they just think your ideas are both dumb and oppressive. We foolishly believe democracy is a dialogue, but it isn’t; democracy is a dialectic, a contest of ideas where some win and others lose.
This is not to say that Dr. Crockett is wrong about his diagnosis of a spiral of silence. But what he is missing is context. Imagine how inconceivable it was for racial minorities to even broker the topic of discrimination in years previous. How just fourteen years ago there was a forced choice between being a Muslim and being an American. The spiral of silence is simply a descriptor of a centripetal force that modulates group behavior. It is not, in of itself, problematic. The fact that people now bite their tongue instead of openly arguing for oppression is a spiral of silence worth protecting, not changing. While Dr. Crockett uses a lot of words like “white male patriarchy” or “white privilege,” he wastes his breath critiquing these paradigms for excluding other perspectives and not nearly enough time defending the perspectives that are being excluded. To put it another way to those demanding honest debate: what is not up for debate in our love affair with liberal democracy is the appeal to the debate itself. Maybe it ought to be.