Let’s Talk for the Sake of the Argument, with Bonhomie and Humility, by Jackie Cushman


When did we decide arguing was intolerable? Perhaps that was when we determined that the arguments were not about whether we were right or wrong, but whether we were right or wrong. We had to be right (we are good), and the others were wrong (they are bad). What had once been intellectual arguments backed up by facts and figures on both sides have turned into moral determinations. Those who agree with me are good people; those who don’t are bad people.

Here’s an example: Last month, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology declined to invite Dr. Dorian Abbot, professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, to give the prestigious Carlson Lecture. Its subject was to be “the climate and the potential for life on other planets”. Note that the subject had to be scientific and not political.

However, on September 22, an online mob on Twitter targeted Abbot, and eight days later MIT announced it would not host the conference to avoid controversy. The cancellation might have made sense if concerns raised about Abbot had focused on his field of university study. But they weren’t. Rather, the controversy stemmed from an editorial he and Dr. Ivan Marinovic, associate professor of accounting at Stanford Business School, had written for Newsweek. The editorial, which was published in August, was titled “The Diversity Problem on Campus”.

In response to the cancellation, Abbot this week wrote an op-ed published on Bari Weiss’ Substack platform “Common Sense”, titled “MIT Abandons Its Mission. And Me.” In Op-Ed, Abbot made the point he made in Newsweek.

Its Newsweek Op-Ed had argued that “diversity, equity and inclusion (DCI) as currently implemented on campus” violates the ethical and legal principle of equal treatment “and “Treats people as a mere means to an end, giving primacy to a statistic over the individuality of a human being.” “What he and Marinovic proposed in the Op-Ed Newsweek was“ an alternative framework called Merit, Equity and Equality (MFE) in which university applicants are treated as individuals and evaluated by an and impartial process based solely on their merit and qualifications. ”

While you can argue against the argument itself, the crowd online instead decided to label him an unfit person and demanded that he be skipped from the MIT conference. That’s what happened.

The Academic Freedom Alliance, which describes itself as “a nonprofit organization whose members are dedicated to protecting the rights of college and university faculty members to speak, instruct, and publish without fear of sanction or of punishment, ”wrote a letter in Abbot’s defense. He “expressed our firm belief that this disinvitation represents a flagrant violation of the principles of academic freedom and a denial of MIT’s stated commitment to freedom of thought.”

“The free and open exchange of ideas and views reflected in the concept of academic freedom can sometimes be disturbing or offensive to some,” according to the policies and principles of MIT 9.0, cited in the letter. “Examining and challenging assumptions, beliefs or opinions, however, is intrinsic to the rigorous education that MIT strives to provide. “

The point is, if you have to agree with an argument, then there is no way you can critically examine or challenge it. Without examination and challenge, there is not much to learn.

“Universities should not fear controversy,” wrote the AFA. “They should certainly not give in to intimidation. They should seek to provide a forum in which disagreements can be expressed openly. These disagreements will sometimes be intense and could be expressed in strong terms, but universities will sacrifice their core values ​​if they do. seek to suppress speakers who could cause controversy or silence the debate before it has even started. ”

The question is to know with what type of academic and therefore common culture do we want to live? “Do we want a culture of fear and repression in which a small number of ideologues exercise their power and cultural dominance to silence anyone who disagrees with them?” Abbot asked in his Op-Ed “Common Sense”. “Or do we want our children to benefit from a truth-seeking discourse made up of good-humored exchanges that are ultimately grounded in a spirit of epistemic humility?”

While it may be easier to accept what others say, the ease is not necessarily the best. If you don’t speak up when you get the chance, you might not get it later. Personally, I like the approach of getting into a good argument while being good and humble.

To learn more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and to read articles from other Creators Syndicate authors and designers, visit www.creators.com.

Photo credit: Wokandapix to Pixabay

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