The enemies of honest discourse are those who believe that sensitivities trump truth. Since, in their view, there is no truth, truth has no claim to trump sensitivity. Indeed it has no claim at all. Those of us who believe, roughly but simply, that the truth is out there, that it is discovered, that a process of reasoning and discourse uncovers the layers of not-quite-fully-true from the more-fully-true, are in for trouble when we come across the legions of Untruth. The modern nihilists- for that is what they are – claim sensitivity and victimhood as their badges of honour, their passport to not be questioned. Those who question and attack are motivated by “hate”, and need thought correction.
I got the following long citation from Kevin Westhues. He based himself on several academic mobbing incidents where professors were turfed for discussing something in honest terms.
Following are ten key characteristics of modern discourse, what many professors and students even now consider the normal or standard way to think, study and argue in the academy:
• “personal detachment from the issues under discussion,” the separation of participants’ personal identities from subjects of inquiry and topics of debate;
• values on “confidence, originality, agonism, independence of thought, creativity, assertiveness, the mastery of one’s feelings, a thick skin and high tolerance for your own and others’ discomfort”;
• suited to a heterotopic space like a university class, scholarly journal, or session of a learned society conference, a place apart much like a playing field for sports events, where competitors engage in ritual combat before returning with a handshake to the realm of friendly, personal interaction;
• illustrated by debate in the British House of Commons;
• epitomized by the debates a century ago between socialist G. B. Shaw and distributist G. K. Chesterton;
• playfulness is legitimate: one can play devil’s advocate, speak tongue in cheek, overstate and use hyperbole, the object being not to capture the truth in a single, balanced monologue, but to expose the strengths and weaknesses of various positions;
• “scathing satire and sharp criticism” are also legitimate;
• the best ideas are thought to emerge from mutual, merciless probing and attacking of arguments, with resultant exposure of blindspots in vision, cracks in theories, inconsistencies in logic;
• participants are forced again and again to return to the drawing board and produce better arguments;
• the truth is understood not to be located in any single voice, but to emerge from the conversation as a whole.
Over the past half century, a competing mode of discourse, the one I call postmodern, has become steadily more entrenched in academe. Following are ten of its hallmarks, as Roberts and Sailer describe on their blogs:
• “persons and positions are ordinarily closely related,” with little insistence on keeping personal identity separate from the questions or issues under discussion;
• “sensitivity, inclusivity, and inoffensiveness are key values”;
• priority on “cooperation, collaboration, quietness, sedentariness, empathy, equality, non-competitiveness, conformity, a communal focus”;
• “seems lacking in rationality and ideological challenge,” in the eyes of proponents of modern discourse;
• tends to perceive the satire and criticism of modern discourse as “vicious and personal attack, driven by a hateful animus”;
• is oriented to ” the standard measures of grades, tests, and a closely defined curriculum”;
• lacking “means by which to negotiate or accommodate such intractable differences within its mode of conversation,” it will “typically resort to the most fiercely antagonistic, demonizing, and personal attacks upon the opposition”;
• “will typically try, not to answer opponents with better arguments, but to silence them completely as ‘hateful’, ‘intolerant’, ‘bigoted’, ‘misogynistic’, ‘homophobic’, etc.”;
• has a more feminine flavour, as opposed to the more masculine flavour of modern discourse;
• results in “stale monologues” and contexts that “seldom produce strong thought, but rather tend to become echo chambers.”
As Western society has become progressively more sensitized to victims, the unempowered, and the disenfranchised, and has desired to give a voice to them, we have tended to truncate or limit public discourse in various ways to ensure that such groups don’t feel threatened. While well-meaning, this reformation of public discourse has come at considerable cost. It has rendered the taking of offence or the playing of the victim or underdog card incredibly powerful ploys within debate. In many cases these ploys overwhelm the debate, making challenging debate next to impossible.
Faced with an opposing position that will not compromise in the face of its calls for sensitivity and its cries of offence, such a mode of discourse lacks the strength of argument to parry challenges. Nor does it have any means by which to negotiate or accommodate such intractable differences within its mode of conversation. Consequently, it will typically resort to the most fiercely antagonistic, demonizing, and personal attacks upon the opposition. While firm differences can be comfortably negotiated within the contrasting form of discourse, a mode of discourse governed by sensitivities and ‘tolerance’ cannot tolerate uncompromising difference. Without a bounded and rule-governed realm for negotiating differences, antagonism becomes absolute and opposition total. Supporters of this ‘sensitive’ mode of discourse will typically try, not to answer opponents with better arguments, but to silence them completely as ‘hateful’, ‘intolerant’, ‘bigoted’, ‘misogynistic’, ‘homophobic’, etc.
Had it not been for my re-immersion in university life a few years ago, I might have thought such views as caricatures, exaggerations. They are not.
The people who resort to this style of debate fall into two camps: the truly inept, and the wholly cynical. The wholly cynical exploiters of the sensitivity-trumps-truth mode were quite surprized to hear me call them fascists. They objected that they were pure souls of moral enlightenment. I replied one did not need to put on an armband in the morning to be a fascist: all that one has to do is believe power trumps truth, and the sensitivity discourse is their path to power. I met these people in the 1960s and 70s. They were marxists then. The cover has changed since but the shit inside is still the same.