Sunday, March 5, 2017

Liberals can wear jackboots too

Middlebury College
   Middlebury College is a lovely place, nestled in the mountains of Vermont. I visited with my older son in 2013 when we were looking at colleges. They were fiercely proud of their liberal arts heritage, and referred to Robert Frost so often I thought he went to school there. He didn't, but lived nearby.

     The place has less to be proud of after last Thursday, when a student mob disrupted an attempt by Middlebury political science professor Allison Stanger to host Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, a highly controversial 1994 book that attempted to show a scientific link between race and intelligence. His attempts to speak were shouted down, and after he was removed to a remote location to conduct his talk via TV link, he and Stanger were attacked, sending the professor to the hospital.
     Here's the Washington Post coverage of the incident.
     I agree with those who find The Bell Curve disingenuous hogwash. Still. Violence is violence. It is unacceptable whether being used to terrorize a religious minority or bully a political scientist whose works you find hateful. There is no justification for it. If you believe in your ideas, if you believe they are true, you should also have confidence they will prevail against somebody whose ideas you find reprehensible. Not because you shouted him down and kept him from ever expressing those ideas. That isn't a free society. 
      College students should know this. But college is also an age of tremendous narcissism, personal drama and lack of perspective.  I was not taken with Middlebury, which has its own private ski slope. "It's a four-year summer camp for rich kids," I quipped. Perhaps their sense of privilege is such that the very idea of other opinions is intolerable. They need to work on that. 
     Totalitarianism is on the march in America. If tomorrow Donald Trump formed the Red Hats, squads of thugs who swagger around, roughing up illegal immigrants and Muslim refugees and liberals, they can now point to Middlebury College as justification. And who could say they don't have a point? Well, I could. It's the worst kind of hypocrisy, to use your erstwhile foes as your moral compass the moment they commit a transgression you would like to try yourself. The way Americans trembling at the thought of sharia law will suddenly point to Saudi Arabia's draconian practices and wish we could do the same. It's rank hypocrisy but then, there's a lot of that going around too. 
    Toleration is meaningless if you only extend it to those whom you agree with. Charles Murray's work might be of dubious scientific value, but it is an argument nevertheless, and those bullying him at Middlebury College did not him, but themselves, a grave disservice, elevating his reputation while undercutting their own. 


  1. How did these students, intelligent young people, miss the most effective way to hurt a speaker? Just turn your back and leave. Did a speaker speak if no one heard him?

  2. Neil, you're right of course, the violence is counter-productive, although I don't think it did anything to elevate Murray's views. I have a bigger problem with Middlebury inviting him to speak in the first place. A college is a place of learning, but that doesn't mean all viewpoints have to be accepted. Part of an education is learning what is true or correct, at least to the best of scholarly research. Liberals may have gone too far, at the urging of "fairness" and "tolerance" to give a wrong conclusions a forum. Then we get Trump and the attitude that facts don't matter,and Mr. Trump is entitled to his opinion. Part of academic rigor should be taking a stand and not supporting bad conclusions by accepting the idea that they're entitled to equal time.

    1. Exactly. What in the world was that professor thinking?

      Now the SOB will probably ride that martyrdom for the rest of his life.

      Bitter Scribe

  3. "Wrong conclusions?" Murray has made a career out of advocating provocative libertarian views I disagree with, but he's not a Grand Wizard of the Klan, and there is no reason young adults entrusted with a college education shouldn't be exposed to him. A few might be converted, most won't. I thought "The Bell Curve" was wrong headed from the start because it depended on I.Q. testing as a general measure of intelligence, but he and his co-author did not claim a proven link between race and intelligence, although that was the takeaway from reviews and commentaries.

    I don't think the "martyrdom" of this incident will mean much to him either way. He gets plenty of exposure in right wing publications like "Commentary," "The Weekly Standard." and the good old WSJ.

    The college administration seems to have acted honorably, condemning the fracas and supporting their professor.

    Tom Evans

    1. I'm not sure how you can read "Affirmative action, in education and the workplace alike, is leaking a poison into the American soul." as anything other than stone cold racism.

      I look at the situation (a new fascist junta in control of the USA, so why not have a speech by a well-known racist libertarian) and can't help buy wonder what drugs the faculty & administration were on. OF COURSE there was going to be a protest; the only question was whether it would tip over into open violence.

      Trump's brownshirts won't need this as an excuse; even if the US left was a universally peaceful hivemind the fascists would just make something up to justify their actions.

    2. That's probably true. I differentiate between protesting something and stopping it. The second wasn't accidental. Filling the hall and shouting people down isn't acceptable.

  4. True, but its frustrating. Conservatives always claim to be the victims, even as most people see through their alternative fact universe. I don't have a problem with people in a college setting demonstrating that they don't have to respect a racist ideologue and give him a forum on their campus. Certainly Murray has plenty of other platforms to promote his opinions, but Middelbury students shouldn't have to accept that he's entitled to equal time on their campus.

  5. I'd find this argument more compelling if, say, Liberty University were inviting Noam Chomsky to speak on their campus to their neophyte baby conservatives. But that will never, ever happen.

    Murray is a completely discredited hateful tool who has built his entire career out of shoddy science designed to give a wink-nod veneer of respectability to what is effectively modern-day eugenics and phrenology. Not all viewpoints deserve respect, and shouting this fool down is an admirable and proper response. Would that somebody had done the same to Hitler in the 20's and early 30's.


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