My Turn: There’s no place for brute force in civilized debate

For the Monitor
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The reason for establishing a civilized society is to put an end to settling ideological differences with physical force, and institutions like Dartmouth are an important part of maintaining that establishment.

When the distinction between action and speech is lost in a society, everyone will eventually lose the freedom of both. It appears that movements like BAMN and antifa are against intellectual debate, aim to silence their targets by conflating actions with speech, and view speech that they find offensive existentially equivalent to the initiation of physical violence. The advocates of these alt-left movements attempt to justify black bloc tactics by classifying their rioting as a type of “self-defense” from “hurtful” speech.

I reckon BAMN and antifa have only one thing to offer in the marketplace of ideas – plain brute force. After all, it’s no secret that these movements purposely try to intimidate their targets into silence using pre-emptive violence. A society or academic institution that tolerates intimidation as a means of settling disputes loses its moral right to exist, and its collapse does not take long to follow.

At the heart of this mess is free speech. Freedom of speech simply means the freedom to advocate ideas without experiencing punitive action or physical force as a repercussion. Therefore, the right to free speech is also the right to offend. If everyone agrees on something – the way zealots do – then there’s no need for a formal right to opine because everyone simply agrees. A right is a protection that’s officially declared as a matter of law, and the right of free speech protects a person’s or organization’s ability to disagree with others in a major way.

Every truth has the subjective potential to spark disagreement and be offensive. For example, some take offense at the truth that our Earth is round. If our standard for free speech is to “not offend,” then all we’re doing is preserving what’s generally agreeable, the status quo, which is diametrically opposed to continuing ideological discourse and discovery.

Essentially, when the distinction between action and speech is lost in a society, eventually everyone will lose the freedom of both. Dartmouth belongs to an elite vanguard charged with the awesome responsibility of maintaining the integrity and quality of thought necessitated by civilized society.

If the average person cannot rely on the best scholars and philosophers to clearly make a simple yet fundamentally important distinction between actions and speech, then what trust can he or she have in such academic entities regarding more complicated issues?

When the public turns its back on institutions like Dartmouth as a paradigm of intellectual guidance, any celebrity or mystical fuhrer will fill the void.

Once a civilized country generally accepts dogmatic actions as self-evident truths, it will quickly unravel into a psychotic society where neighbors spy on one another for the state, the code of survival becomes “might makes right” and differences in opinion are not settled with reason but instead with clubs, a thirty years’ war or internment camps.

(Tim DiVeto lives in Westmoreland.)