Diane Weber Bederman Headshot

No Shock Tactic Should Disrupt Free Speech

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"That kind of speech, that kind of facts, are not acceptable." And so began another infantile attack by another entitled university student, Ethan Jackson, 21 of Wilfrid Laurier University, at a lecture at The University of Waterloo. Dressed as a giant vagina he calls Vulveta, the type of dress that always garners respect, Mr. Jackson announced that he wanted Mr. Stephen Woodworth, a Conservative member of parliament, duly elected by a majority of constituents, to "feel as uncomfortable as he (Mr. Woodworth) makes us feel."

The point of a good education is to increase one's anxiety. As Harold Bloom the author of the Western Canon a collection of writings from "Ezra the Scribe to Northrop Frye" wrote; "A canon... does not exist to free its readers from anxiety...it confirms our cultural anxieties, yet helps to give them form and coherence."

A good education includes questioning one's beliefs. But, Mr. Jackson doesn't want facts introduced into the discussion. Well, some facts, but not the ones that make him uncomfortable by perhaps questioning his well-thought out conclusions. A debate on abortion turned into a farcical drama. The question Mr. Woodworth posed, "What point do we say that an individual has equal worth and dignity?" irked many of the attendees when Mr. Woodworth included in the discussion the acts committed in Germany to redefine the meaning of human and the acts in the United States to redefine human turning black people into beasts of burden. It seems historical record is not acceptable in a debate over the meaning of human. The protesters, themselves, lost an opportunity to learn the meaning of dignity.

The university is aghast at the behaviour. They want an "environment of tolerance" with the right of people to "advance their views openly."

Our edifices of higher learning are reaping what they have sown. The left wing ideologists removed the Western Canon from the curricula and replaced it with politically correct ideologies. And then the focus is on their student's feelings. Liberal arts education has devolved. The Western Canon has been decimated in the name of political correctness. The complaint against the Canon, the underpinnings of Western Culture? The writers are old, dead, white men. Cross them off the list. What do they know about today, as if the questions of today are that much different from the time of Socrates?

We have been asking through the ages: "What is man?" This egregious ad hominem attack against the Canon has backfired. In 1987 Allan Bloom lamented the "Closing of the American Mind." Look how far we have fallen.

Mr. Jackson and "the lady in red" who joined him on the stage, are examples of our modern education based on cultural relativism. Our young people are being encouraged to be open-minded to the point that their minds are so open that everything falls out. Their idea of debate is to interrupt as noisily and disrespectfully as possible in order to attract the media while supplying no message of worth.

Mr. Jackson's fall-back position is to attack the religion that Mr. Woodworth practices. "Who do you think you are trying to impose your bigotry, your views on society through your Christian monotheistic faith?" First, I doubt Mr. Woodworth was imposing his views. He was expressing them as one is wont to do when invited to lecture in a democracy where free speech is still valued. That his definition of life has been informed by his religious beliefs makes it no less valuable than those who come to their conclusions from a secular perspective. It seems that the Jacksons of the world believe they have the right to be the arbiters of what is acceptable fact as well as the perspective from which these facts are presented.

It is sadly becoming normal for guest speakers to be disrespected in places that we call "higher learning." Mr. Jackson and lady in red felt right at home spewing what they believe to be well thought out highly educated views. They demand respect while denigrating the views of others. And lady in red, do you really think that the language you employed to express your heartfelt beliefs will endear your ideas to others? Is this behaviour what the two of you have learned at university? What a waste -- of your time and our tax dollars.

We know from science that the prefrontal cortex is not completely developed until the late teens or early 20s. The amygdala, the reptilian brain that is pure emotion is still running the show. Mr. Jackson and his compatriots need to learn that they have a lot to learn. That knowledge and hopefully wisdom, come from debating opposing views and hopefully synthesizing them. But that is a lot to ask, today, in an academic world of divisiveness, where each group is told that they are special, different, need protection, rather than listening, carefully, to different voices and then bringing the best of them together in one choir.

I try to imagine Socrates here in the Agora, listening to these young people. What would he say? I should think he would weep: Constructive criticism gone-in the name of self-esteem. Free speech-gone in the name of tolerance and inclusiveness.

We've come a long way, baby.

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