Ochlocracy in Vermont


According to reports, Dr. Charles Murray, co-author of the controversial book, The Bell Curve (1994), and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, was invited to speak at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, by members of the AEI Club at the college.

When word of Dr. Murray’s invitation and planned lecture got out, organized opposition began.  You can read the linked article, but the bottom line is, the lecture was stopped by a protesting students and the event descended into violence when a group of masked protesters, apparently not associated with Middlebury College, arrived and assaulted a member of the faculty and attempted to destroy Dr. Murray’s car when he and the faculty member who had been assaulted were trying to drive away.  I can only imagine how the two felt sitting in the car while a mob surrounded them, some beating the windows and pouncing on the roof and hood.

This incident, and others like it in places like Berkeley, California, seem to be on the rise in college campuses, where those who don’t tow the liberal party line taught by the majority of professors and supported by the administration, are met with protests, usually non-violent, but sometimes turning heated, and then violent.  It remains unusual, however, for someone to by physically assaulted.  Hopefully, what happened at Middlebury will not become a pattern.

We need a conversation in this country about the principle of the free exchange of ideas.  College campuses have long been accused of being ramparts of liberal political ideology, of having few political conservatives on their faculty, and of being not subtle at all about teaching their students that there is only one right way to think.  The suspension of a student at Orange Coast College in California for recording an anti-Trump rant by one of his professors (the suspension has since been reversed in response to public outrage) is only one example of one professor regarding it her duty to make sure her students think “correctly” and the lengths to which a college administration is willing to go to protect its professors against students who challenge that “correct” thinking.

But, it’s not only on college campuses.  Our mainstream media has a pattern of reporting, or not reporting, the news in such a way as to imply that there are right ideas and wrong ideas, and that wrong ideas don’t need to be taken seriously, or even need to be shut down.  Many newspapers and magazines have a policy of not referring to pro-life organizations as “pro-life” but as “anti-abortion.”  Media outlets regularly identify right-leaning commentators and organizations as “conservative,” but never identify left-leaning ones as “liberal.”  So, Dr. Charles Murray is a “conservative” writer and speaker, and the American Enterprise Institute is a “conservative” organization.  But, people like Jesse Jackson, Ezra Klein or Andrew Sullivan, and organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center or the ACLU are rarely identified as “liberal,” (except in the conservative press).  National Review is identified a “conservative” magazine, as indeed it is.  Yet, the New York Times is never identified as a “liberal” newspaper, but does anyone doubt that it is?  The point is to imply that conservative commentators and outlets have an agenda, while liberal ones are just there to express their objective opinions and report the news objectively.

Another disconcerting pattern is the practice of labeling anyone who disagrees with the liberal party line as racist, bigoted, homophobic or misogynistic.  The point is to shut people down without having to address their arguments.  No one feels the need to take a racist seriously.  Would anyone entertain the idea of interviewing or debating the Grand Wizard of the KKK on racial policies?  Of course not.  Their extremism disqualifies them as a serious contributor to the conversation.  But now, anyone who simply disagrees with certain policies, who wants to talk about other options for addressing matters such as poverty, crime, inner-city violence, or who offers a perspective on concerns about police brutality that aren’t 100% pure are immediately labeled racist with the expectation that they will not be taken seriously because of the “extreme” views.  Anyone who isn’t fully on board with the LGBTQ agenda, anyone who opposes abortion or even regards limits on abortion as reasonable, anyone who wonders if open borders are a bad idea or even questions the left’s opposition to fossil fuels – all of these and others are labeled “haters” who must be shut down and shut out.  Any attempt to take them seriously is itself a dangerous idea that must be shut down.

This is not the way of progress.  This is not the way of a people who are willing to consider all ideas, toss out the bad ones and embrace the good ones.  This is not the way of a nation dedicated to the principle of the free exchange of ideas so that the best options, the most progressive and effective policies and, yes, the objective truth can rise to the top.  This is the way of intolerance, of authoritarianism, of state control.  The claim is that there are a few who know what’s best for everyone else, and the expectation is that everyone else will follow along, keeping their mouths and their minds shut, or else!

As far as I know, there’s only one way to resist this tide and to turn it back, and that it to continue to speak, to write, to act in ways that resist the shut down.  The best and only effective response to bad ideas and bad speech is more ideas and more speech.  Those who are committed to the free exchange of ideas need to not be afraid to exchange ideas.  Some will pay a high cost.  They may lose friends, jobs, reputations, etc…  But, in order for our country to remain one that is committed to the free exchange of ideas, there is no other answer than to freely exchange ideas, no matter the cost.  If we’re bullied, intimidated or threatened into silence, we’ll lose much more than our friends, our jobs or our reputations.  We’ll lose our integrity and, ultimately, we’ll lose our freedoms.

Be Christ for all.  Bring Christ to all.  See Christ in all.

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