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:
tr.v. com·fort·ed, com·fort·ing, com·forts
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
What do you think? Am I off the mark? Is there something I’m missing?
Let me know in the comments!