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Monday, May 16, 2022

Vilification from the Protesters

The controversy centered on Mr. Murray’s talk last week taught me how exaggerated some protesters’ rhetoric can become when used to vilify their ideological opponents. In my opinion, part of their rhetoric is not only moralistic and unconstructive, but also inaccurate and hypocritical.

Consider how the label “pseudo-science” is abused. I am not in the position to assess the rigor of Mr. Murray’s theory, but I am sure that there is considerable distance between the grotesque caricatures of Mr. Murray’s arguments and the much more cautious and agnostic arguments he actually put forward. As our Political Science department points out in an open letter, Mr. Murray is not a “charlatan.” Some of his claims, such as the inheritability of intelligence have in fact been confirmed by the peer-reviewed “Mainstream Science on Intelligence” on the Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, if those who accuse Mr. Murray’s theory as pseudo-science are consistent in their belief in science, they should renounce equally spurious theories such as, say, alternative medicine. The fact that they distinguish one from the other indicates that their opinion is based on moral judgment, rather than scientific merit.

It gives me even more qualms to read statements like “Murray puts human dignity at risk”. The concept of “human dignity” belongs in the realm of philosophy and/or faith, which can be neither proven nor refuted by any statistical analysis. As far as I understand, Mr. Murray’s thesis in The Bell Curve only posits that (a) intelligence, in the crude and flawed way we understand it, may be genetic and may correlate with race; and that (b) intelligence may be an effective indicator of socio-economic divide. If we overlook the many asterisks and qualifications involved, and push this statement to its logical extreme, as so many scientific discoveries have been wrongfully presented in popular media, we get that “poor people are dumb.” Yet even when put in this grossly simplistic language, I fail to see how “human dignity” is compromised — unless we are to believe that dumb or poor people are somehow sub-human in dignity. I do not believe Mr. Murray’s protesters hold such an outrageous idea. Rather, I believe they have been deliberately lax in their phrasing in order to stir the emotions of their audience.

Even before some protesters physically injured Professor Stanger, this exaggerated rhetoric has produced immediate, tangible harm. Granted, being an influential writer, Mr. Murray does not strictly need the platform at Middlebury in order to make his opinions known to the public. But what about the rest of the student body? What about students (of which I am sure there is a great number) interested in listening to Mr. Murray just for the topic of the talk, namely class divide in white America? Their right to engage in meaningful conversation, even if in disagreement, has been forcefully sacrificed on the altar of a progressive orthodoxy. This is neither just nor expedient: just as name-calling has not persuaded Trump supporters in the general election, the strategies of protesters on Thursday will not garner much sympathy from students who are undecided on this matter.

As if this is not enough, they have also used social media to target students of color who spoke out in defense of Mr. Murray’s right to free speech, suggesting that these students have colluded with white supremacists. Admittedly, Mr. Murray is at an advantage in terms of institutional power (but still, he is far from the policy maker at our or any other college); the same cannot be said about students who wished to hear him speak. It is ironic how some protesters’ ad hominem attacks have been more malign and hurtful than Mr. Murray’s dubious claims.  Such is the extent of the fanaticism of the Left. Such is the kind of intellectual witch-hunt they are willing to initiate in order to protect the purity of their doctrine.

The fierce opponents of Mr. Murray must confess that censorship is good and obligatory when certain moral imperatives are at risk. They must admit that they would purge a view because they value science not as much as they value the outcome of their crusade. They are not friends of the Enlightenment thinkers, who were willing to challenge social taboo on morality in order to promote open debate. On the contrary, they are akin to religious fundamentalists who would defend at all costs an idea that they believe to be capital Truth. At most, they see liberty as a means rather than a principle. However, the moment liberty is suspended for an ulterior end, it ceases to be liberty. Liberty as anything other than a principle is hardly liberty at all.

Sure, I respect all sorts of moral crusaders for their devotion to a noble cause. However, I would be skeptical of their hypocrisy if they start to uphold the banner once pioneered by the likes of John Stuart Mill, and denounce historical and contemporary tyrannies, as if they are truly concerned with ideas like tolerance or freedom.