John Seven: In blocking speaker, Williams exhibited a reasonable limit to tolerance


NORTH ADAMS — When Williams College disinvited conservative writer John Derbyshire from speaking on the campus, it ignited yet another conversation about censorship and how these poor millennials will never be able to deal with the real, awful world out there.

The reaction points to the sad, hangdog demeanor we Americans have been taught to affect, where we are told that we have to tolerate what is clearly hateful in the name of freedom.

It's just fair play to listen to racists and other hateful cranks. It's our responsibility.

We've seen where that attitude gets you — the current crop of Republicans vying for the nomination. Every single one of them has several topics they're more than happy to spout ill-informed nonsense about, and yet not one of them is really capable of standing up against the ultimate crackpot, Trump, who proves this dynamic better than anyone.

The Republican mainstream let that oaf play his billionaire game early on, assuming that common sense would take over. But in doing so, they legitimized the crackpot, and discovered, much to their horror, that the "official" picks were weak and ineffectual, certainly not up to running a country if they can't take down someone like Trump.

Poor Jeb Bush, poor Carly Fiorina, poor Chris Christie. That's what you get when you give a podium to something you know is wrong. It can defeat you.

It is no different with Derbyshire, a man who actually got fired by the National Review for racist views in an article for the magazine, in which he stated that black Americans are more violent and less intelligent than white Americans, among other foulness.

Derbyshire was invited by a liberal student of color for a series called Uncomfortable Learning, which offers speakers with views quite different from the typical Williams student to express them in the name of learning and understanding.

I certainly can't argue with the noble and mature intentions of the series, and its existence should be celebrated. And it should be pointed out that it was not this student organization who told Derbyshire he couldn't come, it was the college itself. The students were open to the dialogue.

However, I think that the college administration has a valid point. While I admire the students for being so open-minded in seeking dialogue, I also admire the college for actually taking a stand.

Just because an opinion exists, I'm unclear that anyone is required to listen to it. In cases where the opinion is clearly racist, it is surely good to know what that speech is, but I still don't think anyone is required to actually listen to it, and certainly not to host it.

It's an old trick that anti-evolutionists play. The entire idea is to get scientists to debate creationism because that acknowledges the so-called theory as worth debating.

Once you do so, it doesn't really matter who wins the debate or the particulars of what has been said. What matters is that a person of authority in the field has acknowledged that the ideas are worthy of discussion. In the brains of many, this is all that it takes to legitimize inarguably bad, misinformed ideas. Legitimacy makes them correct.

It works the same with guest speakers. Giving a podium is giving legitimacy, and it is the responsibility of the college to decide whether they want to be party to that.

I'm not going to come down on a college for cutting off the speech of a racist. Racists have been given plenty of free speech in our country and we have Trump to show for it. I think we've been tolerant enough.

Contact John Seven at Follow him on Twitter @damnjohnseven.


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