There’s nothing outrageous about shouting down people we disagree with, writes someone at Slate in relation to a recent protest at Middlebury College that prevented controversial social scientist Charles Murray from speaking. For a long time American civil society has included a free and fair exchange of ideas as one of its hallmarks, and that has included speech that many consider odious. The fact that many in my generation think that it’s fine and fair to prevent people with whom they disagree from speaking is disheartening. Conor Friedersdorf, who remains one of the most cogent voices on this issue, had a great column about it last week.
Murray is best known for his 1994 book, The Bell Curve, which among other things argues that African Americans have generally lower IQs than Whites which is one of the reasons they have fared less well in contemporary America than their White peers, a conclusion reached off some suspect research (Full disclosure: I have not read the book, so this is my summary of other summaries). Obviously, this is not a view I or most people agree with, and I actually find the suggestion that race has anything to do with intelligence to be pretty reprehensible (there are a lot more factors that go into intelligence and ability than just IQ, for starters).
BUT, even though I disagree with Murray’s conclusion, what the Middlebury protesters did was the absolute wrong way to engage with his ideas. There have been a number of very well-written critical academic analyses debunking or disputing Murray’s conclusions, and challenging him with those to see how he would respond would have been a much more effective way to dispute his ideas than to prevent him from speaking and to cause physical harm to a (liberal) professor.
Winning the war of ideas involves more than simply shouting down the other side, and the fact that there are many who don’t understand this is disheartening (to say nothing of the fact that it plays right into the Baby Boomer notion that Millennials are all a bunch of safe-space-needing snowflakes).