If there's one class of people whom I would like to see payback (by humbly disappearing from view), given their long history of hostility to reality, it is the present generation of baby boomer academics, especially those who lead political opinion in the universities. I was reminded of this yesterday when Pastorius somehow got hold of what he thinks is a real email from a University of Florida vice-president:
November 26, 2007My initial, overly hot-headed, response to Pastorius was as follows:
To: All University Students
From: Dr. Patricia Telles-Irvin
Vice President for Student Affairs
Re: Official Response to a recent advertisement for the movie "Obsession"
Throughout our country, we have witnessed a rise in offensive behavior and actions taken against others, which has created greater divisiveness and misunderstandings among the various ethnic groups residing in our communities. One of these events occurred on our campus recently with the promotion of an event.
Advertisements for the movie "Obsession" sponsored by several student organizations appeared during the past several weeks on campus bulletin boards and they illustrate the importance of balancing freedom of speech with responsibility.
The ads, which promoted a showing of the movie on Nov. 13 and a panel discussion afterward, entitled "Radical Islam Wants You Dead," offended many Muslim students on campus. Regardless of its original intent, the language reinforced a negative stereotype, created unnecessary divisiveness and contributed to a generalization that only furthers the misunderstanding of the religion of Islam.
We cannot speak of rights without also addressing the responsibility associated with our actions or statements, including understanding the potential consequences. One of our roles as a learning institution is to teach our students to express themselves freely, and also in a fair and conscientious manner. In an academic setting, differences of opinions are strongly encouraged, yet such opinions must be based on accurate information when describing other members of the community.
Unfortunately, in the case of the "Obsession" ads, that did not happen. I believe the groups that posted them owe the campus, and particularly campus members of the Islamic faith, an apology and a clarification.
At the University of Florida we have embraced a set of values, one of which is diversity. Diversity is not just about having representation from various cultures on campus, it also is having each member contribute to an inclusive and safe environment and collectively enhancing our understanding and appreciation of the richness brought by such differences. The University of Florida is committed to being
an institution of excellence, where all members are valued and feel safe on our campus. Our role as an institution is to create opportunities for students to learn in an open and accepting environment; one that emphasizes respect for all. Let's remember that part of our mission is to prepare each other to be effective members of a global community. With that in mind, I encourage each member of our campus community as a start to learn more about the religion of Islam and some of its tenets of peace, hard work, charity and compassion.
There is little room for divisiveness in our world if we are to find peace and understanding among us. We all can win if we focus on greater inclusion and understanding as well as the delicate balance between our rights and esponsibilities.
This woman calls for responsibility in the use of free speech. Well, ok, because freedom and responsibility are synonymous: real freedom emerges from necessity.Pastorius then more calmly replied:
But what about her own conception of responsibility? Do you think there is a snowball's chance in Florida that she will ever engage in a serious debate in which she is challenged on her dhimmitude or her diversity ranting by someone well informed and articulate on the problems with such?
The clue to her non-thinking is here:
There is little room for divisiveness in our world if we are to find peace and understanding among us.
This is pure Gnostic Utopianism. Does she not know how irresponsible it is to give young people the impression that we can live in a world without conflict? Does she not know that conflict is inherent to the human condition and the real evil is done by those who think they have some "solution" to it? She is a totalitarian but she's too stupid to know it. That is why she will never engage in a free and open debate in which her own conception of responsibility is challenged.
I would add, that when she says there is little room for divisiveness, she includes critical analysis. The method of critical analysis requires that we make distinctions and have arguments. Distinctions and arguments are inherently divisive.I think that is a fair summary of what happens when you get university officials demanding an avoidance of "divisiveness". Nonetheless, I would agree with Dr. Telles-Irvin that you should call people out when they are saying things that are untrue. But I would not use the method of a school matron rapping knuckles. If you believe in free speech, you enter the debate, you don't try to stand above it and simply say, officiously, "you lied, you have no right to your free speech".
In fact, if you think about it, all thinking requires that distinctions be made, so thinking itself is divisive.
When you get right down to it, this woman would prefer that no one thinks.
I don't know what was on the supposedly offensive posters, beyond what the email states: "Radical Islam Wants You Dead." While I agree that such a generalization leaves something to be desired - for example, it is more true of Jews and pagans, perhaps, than Christians - it's pretty clear that there are various kinds of people that some of the more incensed Muslims of today would like to see dead. The traditional choice that Islam offers peoples of the book - conversion or dhimmitude or death - can come to mean, for Muslim fundamentalists, that a non-Muslim not willing to convert or act like a dhimmi should be killed, after due warning and when one is in an appropriate position to do jihad.
In any case, it is hardly clear how "Radical Islam Wants You Dead" is less true than the professor's own generalization that Islam is about "peace, hard work, charity and compassion."
While some Muslims might grumble about being called "compassionate", an emotion which implies a sense of guilt (notwithstanding that the "compassionate" frequently deny that they feel guilt, when challenged on the point...), the peace, hard work, and charity are, according to orthodoxy, all contingent on an acceptance of Islamic law which calls, among other things, for the whole world to be subdued by Islam, sooner or later. Since this call has led and continues to lead to much violence and conflict, one has to be willfully ignorant or deceptive to imply that Islam is strictly about peace.
Furthermore, even if one assumes that peace is only promised to those who submit to Islam (whether as true believers or as dhimmis) the evident facts of history are that Islam is full of internal conflict and violence both within and between sects. Whatever the dogmatic ideal, as a pragmatic form of culture Islam does not have a great track record for finding ways to mediate conflict. No doubt this has something to do with the fundamentalist idea that Islam is not open to change. Anything closed to serious debate and reform cannot hope to develop new shared understandings of the sacred, which are the only ways to defer conflict and violence.
This is why freedom of speech is so important. While it's true that the abuse of freedom can foster or exacerbate conflict, it's more importantly true that freedom of thought and exchange of opinion is the only way out of conflict, short of total physical dominance of one side by the other (which only in turns sets the stage for the next challenger to someone's physical dominance). To denounce someone's use of free speech for merely offending someone or some group, while feeling no serious need to demonstrate that the speech in question is particularly fallacious, at least more fallacious than one's own pieties, is to miss an essential truth about our humanity: free speech is less often a road to violent conflict as the only possible alternative to it. If we are not verbally and intellectually challenging those with whom we have great differences in regard to what people should hold sacred, we are either moving towards open violent conflict, or the physical and often spiritual submission of one side to the other.
Free speech is not nice, it's not pretty, and it has nothing to do with avoiding hurt feelings. It is, instead, our only alternative to a world where might is right; and since might can never be uniquely right, since no dictator can last long without taking others' opinions into account, "might is right" is just another form of Utopian fantasy that presages a renewal of open conflict.
There is nothing more evil for a university to teach, in my humble opinion, than Utopian fantasies about overcoming conflict through diversity (as if "diversity" could be a "value" in and of itself: what can be given a value is only a difference which is exchangeable, not something put above and beyond free exchange, not that anything can really be put above free exchange even by the most totalitarian of attempts, though attempts at unreality are no less evil for that...). It is to mislead students on fundamental questions of reality. Conflict is inherent to the human condition, because we are unavoidably in mimetic rivalry over that which is held sacred by any or all. Free and open exchange in the signs and tokens of the sacred is the best way to mediate this conflict relatively peacefully. In other words, unrestricted free speech and a society ruled by free trade in opinion is our best way to keep this conflict maximally non-violent.
Those who would let ideas of "compassion" towards the losers in history's intellectual and cultural struggles dictate their politics and governing authority need to be reminded that "compassion" is a "value" closely linked to violence. It is rooted in our guilt towards the victim of violence or unacceptable inequality. Because it is a form of guilt, "compassion" is only a "value" which can be exchanged - in secular, non-religious, contexts - with irrational and resentment-generating reminders of violence in the air. If you're the victim for whom I have compassion today, you can only hope that tomorrow the tables will be turned. Unless, that is, you are truly committed to refusing and overcoming the trade in compassion and victim status. Compassion, in anything other than the Christian, victim-transcending, God-centered, sense, is a primitive object of sacrificial exchange that has no place in a truly free marketplace.
Rather than the thoughtless, maternalist teaching of compassion, passing for higher education, it's much better to teach young people how to "insult" each other with clever words (though of course one should not always be "insulted" when someone puts in time and effort to insult you - it's often a compliment, a sign that you matter!). It's better not to be compassionate to anyone, not even to your friends or your dieing and suffering mother. Treat them with real respect instead. Treat them as people capable of thinking and confidently holding their own through even the hardest trials of this world. If you treat them like a victim, you're only really telling them that human existence is something fundamentally irrational and intolerable, and that Utopian denials of reality are a necessary, comforting lie. But you don't want your loved ones leaving this world without eternal and realistic hopes for the humanity left behind, or for the Creator with whom many people hope one day to reunite. So instead of teaching Utopianism, which only encourages more violence - when disappointed people, unprepared for hard reality face hard realities and lash out - teach instead the "bitter truth" of human conflict over the sacred. This lesson is the first step to real freedom, and humility.