Tonight, a political rant, but this time I’m going after many of my fellow liberals: I’m against the expulsion of University of Oklahoma students involved in the recent racist video. I’m not defending these guys. (And I think the closing of their frat house is another matter; one could make a case for it based on nondiscrimination laws.)
What I’m talking about is the expression of ideas, good or bad. There’s an important reason to support free speech as a principle, and not just when we agree with the content, and this reason is amply illustrated by history: Once people get used to prohibiting speech they find offensive, they soon ban the defense of many good ideas and the criticism of many bad ones.
Speech codes have no place at a university. Aside from libel and threats of violence, the only rule should be, “If you say it, you will be called upon to defend it.” Open prejudice is its own worst enemy.
Much as I disagree with Phil Robertson’s views on sexuality and race, I oppose A&E’s decision to kick him off “Duck Dynasty” for comments made in an off-air interview. Attempting to stifle speech in this way – even speech we find offensive – is not a good practice. Establish such a precedent and it can be used against anyone who expresses minority opinions, or anything that their employer perceives as a threat to the bottom line.
It’s better for all of us if Robertson can make his case openly. Let him explain his reasoning in detail and defend it against criticism. Let him be the public face of social conservatism. Ban him and he becomes a principled martyr. Let him speak and he becomes your crazy uncle – you know he’s probably a decent guy at heart, but sometimes you’re just embarrassed for him.
Does curiosity have political consequences? (Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a partisan rant.) To put it another way, what happens when curiosity becomes what we might call ‘skilled curiosity’ — meaning, the tendency to ask questions such as “Why is that?” and “How do you know?” plus the knowledge of how to gather information, test hypotheses, weigh evidence, and detect BS. Here’s a concise explanation: Continue reading →