Misunderstanding Misunderstanding

After several weeks of frivolity with photography, it’s time to post a more serious piece.

Over the past days weeks months years public speech in America has come under intense scrutiny, particularly on college campuses. From my perspective, it appears that certain people operate under the assumption that they have a right not to be offended; if they are offended, then something must be wrong.

The following opinion piece crossed my news feed; I felt compelled to write a rebuttal.

Letter: Mills ’15 and others misunderstand safe spaces

I am greatly disappointed that Walker Mills ’15’s opinion piece “Playing it Safe — Too Safe” falls into the same semantic trap that New York Times contributing opinion writer Judith Shulevitz and many other generational pundits have been making in recent editorial comments across news outlets. The current rally that generational pundits make against me and my peers in college today is that we have forsaken freedom of speech and multiple view points for “comfort.” What does this word “comfort” even mean? I’m afraid that it is a product of jargon that is too easily mistranslated by these opinion columnists hoping to pass a deadline.

Logical Fallacy: Strawman

What does “comfort” mean, you ask? Well, according to the American Heritage College Dictionary:

com·fort (kŭmfərt)

tr.v. com·fort·ed, com·fort·ing, com·forts

1. To soothe in time of affliction or distress.
2. To ease physically; relieve: comforted the feverish patient with a cool cloth.

n.

1.

a. A condition or feeling of pleasurable physical ease or relief from pain or stress: finally sat in comfort on the soft pillows.
b. A condition of well-being, contentment, and security: an income that allowed them to live in comfort.

2.

a. Solace or consolation in time of sorrow or distress: soothing words of comfort.
b. Help; assistance: gave comfort to the enemy.

3.

a. Something providing ease, convenience, or security: the comforts of modern living.
b. A person or thing that brings consolation or mental ease: a friend who was a comfort to me in my grief.
4. Chiefly Southern & Lower Northern US A quilted bedcover; a comforter.

Therefore, when you say you want to be comfortable, I take it you want to be at ease, strengthened in your own beliefs, and soothed in spirit.

Fair warning: none of these should be demanded – let alone accepted or expected – in debate. It is the nature of debate to challenge our innermost beliefs and heartfelt desires. Otherwise, what is the purpose? This argument reminds me of this utterly absurd cartoon, claiming that using dictionary definitions in debate is akin to arguing from a position of privilege and power.

If they delved with any honest intent into the vast discourse of social justice, they would see how far from the mark they really are.

Logical Fallacy: Fallacy Fallacy; smacks of Ad Hominem

What is this “vast discourse” other than a reiteration of the 1970s “Stick it to the man”? There is no understanding of the past; the past is invalid because anyone older than your own generation “doesn’t understand society today.”

To begin, when students claim a lecture or event is “uncomfortable,” it’s not because the chair cushion is sagging. Nor is it because we simply don’t like the ideas being touted before us. It is because the speakers promoting these ideas do not display an effort to be inclusive in their thoughts.

Logical Fallacy: Genetic

Remember: Don’t kill the messenger!

A speaker’s language may not recognize the differences in gender identity or expression, and thus speak in ways that exclude and marginalize certain groups. Their arguments may not acknowledge the position of power they inherently have when making certain claims. The solutions they offer to whatever discussion at hand many not consider the long history of injustice performed against people of color.

Logical Fallacy: Burden of Proof, Personal Incredulity

One cannot claim the moral high ground while also advocating moral equivalency.

Or, to put it another way, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

Take note: not every word, thought, and action is an attempt to keep and save power.

These examples may seem vague, but I am trying to generalize a range of possible situations that have caused dismay across college campuses. To outside observers, make no mistake, these problems are not analogous to me sitting on an uncomfortable lumpy mattress.

Logical Fallacy: Anecdotal

Based on your own argument, you imply that everyone who doesn’t think like you think they should think is an ignorant, bigoted megalomaniac. How is that inclusive?

When I say your argument makes me uncomfortable, it is because I am greatly concerned that you have not done the requisite thought and research into generating an inclusive thesis that considers as many nuances as necessary to deliver a sound debate.

Logical Fallacy: Fallacy Fallacy; hints of Burden of Proof

Perhaps one considers those nuances and rejects them. What then?

Why should a thesis be inclusive? It is the very nature of hypotheses and theses to be divisive!

If you do not believe that skin color, age, religious identity, sexuality, class or (dis)ability have an effect in cultural, political or economic problems that we debate at universities, then it is you who is trying to remain comfortable despite such frightening realities. In this sense, being uncomfortable is the strongest form of rhetoric that our millennial generation wields in the struggle against all forms of oppression.

Joseph DiZoglio ’15

Logical Fallacy: Appeal to Emotion, Ad Hominem

I can “believe that skin color, age, religious identity, sexuality, class or (dis)ability have an effect in cultural, political or economic problems that we debate at universities” and still disagree with you or make you feel uncomfortable!

Again, that is the very nature of debate.

Ultimately, this piece is built on the logical fallacies of Ad Hominem, Tu Quoque, and Personal Incredulity.

I would direct the author to read Beatty’s Speech from Fahrenheit 451.


What do you think? Am I off the mark? Is there something I’m missing?

Let me know in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “Misunderstanding Misunderstanding

  1. Well said. Been thinking about this, too
    1. People are so busy looking to be offended. Anyone half looking will easily find it.
    “Don’t cry before you’re actually hurt”
    2. People are so busy looking to tattle about someone saying some thing that might hurt someone – so they can feel superior/better than someone else. “If you don’t have a horse in the race, stay out of it.”
    3. Are people so weak in what they believe in that they can’t face opposing thoughts?
    4. Can’t agree to disagree, but still get along? We all used to pretty much.
    What is wrong with people?
    A real concern.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. And the herd mentality is encourage with one “leader” making the decisions, signs, and penning the chants – with no questioning from the mob…
        So much weak thinking would have been ridiculed in the past by everyone…but that’s probably bullying now…and everyone is afraid to say anything least the mob turn on them.
        Danger, Will Robinson, danger.

        Liked by 1 person

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