How liberal pupils become illiberal bigots, and how to stop it.
Since Trivium aims to expose pupils to the interesting and the controversial with their eyes open and their questions at the ready, debates on “tricky” topics are crucial and need to be had, not shut down unless truly, objectively exceptionable. And all the better that they can be had in the controlled yet open setting we offer pupils for those debates here at the School. Many of the Trivium lessons I have observed are clear and healthy examples of this sort of free speech and intelligent, respectful yet incisive debate.
With all that in mind, I have enjoyed this article on how “no-platforming”, while (sometimes) liberal and well-intentioned in spirit, is too often deeply illiberal and damaging for free speech in academic institutions and political debates across the world. Now, more than ever, our Trivium teachers’ efforts – indeed those of all subjects that admit debate – are in great need, to keep our pupils’ minds open and questioning, when confronted with a swelling crowd – from all sides – that doesn’t allow opposing opinions. The Vandals are at the gate; we teachers need to man the walls. Here is the article, likening such anti-debate movements to the worst aspects of fanatical religion: …
… of which a key extract, on intersectionality and the shutting down of free speech at university:
It is operating, in Orwell’s words, as a “smelly little orthodoxy,” and it manifests itself, it seems to me, almost as a religion. It posits a classic orthodoxy through which all of human experience is explained — and through which all speech must be filtered. Its version of original sin is the power of some identity groups over others. To overcome this sin, you need first to confess, i.e., “check your privilege,” and subsequently live your life and order your thoughts in a way that keeps this sin at bay. The sin goes so deep into your psyche, especially if you are white or male or straight, that a profound conversion is required.
Like the Puritanism once familiar in New England, intersectionality controls language and the very terms of discourse. It enforces manners. It has an idea of virtue — and is obsessed with upholding it. The saints are the most oppressed who nonetheless resist. The sinners are categorized in various ascending categories of demographic damnation, like something out of Dante. The only thing this religion lacks, of course, is salvation. Life is simply an interlocking drama of oppression and power and resistance, ending only in death. It’s Marx without the final total liberation.
It operates as a religion in one other critical dimension: If you happen to see the world in a different way, if you’re a liberal or libertarian or even, gasp, a conservative, if you believe that a university is a place where any idea, however loathsome, can be debated and refuted, you are not just wrong, you are immoral. If you think that arguments and ideas can have a life independent of “white supremacy,” you are complicit in evil. And you are not just complicit, your heresy is a direct threat to others, and therefore needs to be extinguished. You can’t reason with heresy. You have to ban it. It will contaminate others’ souls, and wound them irreparably.