‘Viewpoint tolerance is not and cannot possibly be some sort of absolute value’

Because the First Amendment affects public universities differently, I won’t compare my place of employment with Middlebury College, a private Vermont college whose website is benefiting from self-righteous examples of click bait written by conservative writers and self-identified liberal Frank Bruni, a New York Times columnist with even less talent for polysyllabic handwringing than colleague David Brooks. But Paul Campos offers points that need considering:

Universities are ongoing exercises in massive content discrimination, and indeed have to be by their very nature. The notion that universities should be open to all viewpoints is so ridiculous that it’s hard to believe anyone would defend it, except at the highest level of abstraction, which is the level at which such defenses invariably take place.

Universities should not be open to the viewpoints of Holocaust deniers or Sandy Hook truthers, to pick just a couple of a basically unlimited number of possible examples, because such views are false, and false views should not be given a forum within institutions dedicated to the pursuit of truth.

But where do you draw the line? You draw it right here, every day, that’s where. (“Right here” being within the university itself). But who should have the authority to make decisions about what constitutes a controversial view that deserves a hearing, and what is misguided nonsense, or a noxious calculated lie, or a paranoid delusion? We should — we being the members of the scholarly community — BECAUSE THAT’S LITERALLY OUR JOB, or part of it, anyway.

Sorry for shouting but come on.

The point is that, within the university at least, viewpoint tolerance is not and cannot possibly be some sort of absolute value. It’s a pragmatic tool in the pursuit of truth, and, like all such tools, it has its limits.

Milo Yiannopoulos or Charles Murray’s supporters, financial and otherwise, have no interest in Furthering Intellectual Debate: they know how college students will respond, then use the response as a way to criticize the Intolerant Left and raise funds. I would distinguish between the invitation of Murray and, say, Alan Greenspan, a satrap who holds views that I find repulsive and dangerous but have formed part of liberal American economic thought since the Lochner era and beyond; if we’re going to disqualify Greenspan, it must be on the basis of his youthful admiration for terrible and influential writer Ayn Rand, in the same way I would protest Condoleeza Rice’s commencement addresses because no college student should be subject to commencement addresses on a morning or afternoon best spent drinking on your parents’ dime.

3 thoughts on “‘Viewpoint tolerance is not and cannot possibly be some sort of absolute value’

  1. milx

    This is bullshit. Murray has written extensively on a number of topics besides race + IQ which no only makes up a small % of his infamous Bell Curve but itself is not a subject of settled science but rather one of settled politics. He is no Milo – a provocateur with no scholarship bonafides. He’s a legitimate perspective that has been utilized by shithead bigots to further their agendas. Universities no-platforming politically inconvenient opinions is not a great moment in the history of Western scholarship.

    1. humanizingthevacuum Post author

      “Infamous” is right, for the Bell Curve has been dismissed as pseudo science for years. And, yes, he’s touring precisely because he’s an agent provocateur with a new book to sell.

      1. milx

        It really has not been dismissed. Look at the actual literature – there is still wide acceptance in the field that a) different “racial” groups have measurable IQ deviations from one another and that b) IQ has a correlation to future success. It’s complex, and the meaning of this is widely debated, but that’s precisely what they said in the Bell Curve. In fact they write quite explicitly that if you come away from the chapter dealing with this subject believing that IQ is entirely correlated to genetics then they failed at their job. Their argument is that genetics play a component and, outside political considerations, this is an obvious and intuitive point. The vast vast majority of people who condemn the book have not read it and it’s obvious from their misrepresentations of what it contains. It’s not a coincidence that not a single Math/Science professor signed onto the initial letter condemning his speech, but many signed onto the letter condemning the student actions.

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