Sydney Kendall Says

Thinking in public about anything that matters.

Stifling Debate at NYU

So the Objectivist Club at New York University has had a panel discussion about the Danish cartoons. Trouble is, as part of the discussion, they were going to display the cartoons so that everyone could see what they were talking about.

NYU’s administration didn’t like that.

Go here: Censors Win at NYU to read all bout it.

Now, I believe a university should have the right to set campus rules, even dumb ones. But whether they have the right or not, it’s counter to the vital purposes of education to squash first-hand viewing of images under discussion, simply because some members of the community feel offended by them.

Yes, I know, some of those offended parties can be troublemakers. But here’s the thing: intellectual and moral debate in itself can be – often is – offensive to some party or other. If you are going to give in to those who threaten trouble, then there will be more and more people who will threaten trouble, until you won’t be allowed to observe “offensive” evidence or discuss “offensive” ideas about anything.

The reason freedom of speech is so crucial is that working out the truth requires debate on sensitive subjects. The process requires the airing of all the pertinent facts, reasoning, and even prejudices, to expose them all to the light, and give people a chance to form judgements based on the full picture, with nothing omitted.

To live in a free society where seeking the truth is protected by law, you need to be more dedicated to finding out what’s so than to avoiding being offended. If you don’t agree with what someone says or draws, you give a counter argument, you don’t threaten violence. And if someone does threaten violence, you don’t let them have their way, or else violence will come to replace debate and discussion. Violence will rule what we are and are not allowed to consider.

I say that a University has the right to censor… but they are wrong to do so. When they censor, they become the enemy of the honest, inquiring mind. Of all institutions, a university should be at the forefront of guarding the right of freedom of expression and debate, and refuse to be intimidated by perceived threats against it.

As to the importance of viewing the cartoons as part of the Objectivist Club discussion, my husband and I know a Muslim man here in Melbourne who was angered by the cartoons – as well as to the violent Muslims’ reactions to them – and he thought that the cartoons should not have been published. My husband asked the fellow if he had seen the cartoons. He had not. So Prodos brought him the cartoons to view.

The Muslim man looked at them and said, in essence: ” Oh… so what’s the big deal? This is nothing.”

Furthermore, I’m acqainted with other Muslims who have interpreted the cartoons in a way that did not insult the religion itself, but rather viewed them as an assault on the unenlightened Islamists and terrorists in their midst.

The point is that actually SEEING the cartoons is crucial to forming an informed judgement about them. An opinion formed second hand, based on someone’s description, can be very dodgy. That other person’s impression and context can warp the description. If you want to form your own opinion, you need to go to the source – in this case, you need to view the cartoons.

When a university administration fails to understand this basic fact of independent thought – that you need to go to the source to form objective, first-hand judgements – it should either figure it out quick, or get into some other line of work.

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3 Comments

  1. It’s just a symtom of the problem. I don’t have the solution yet, but when I do it will be more offensive to some people then a cartoon shown at a lecture.

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  2. Thanks for the example of the Muslim offended by the idea of the cartoon but found them in fact to be unimportant to him upon seeing them. It is an excellent of what NYU prevented from occurring.

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  3. Ooops.

    Make that:
    It is an excellent EXAMPLE of what NYU prevented from occurring.

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