Thursday, October 21, 2004

Phillip is Winning

Several people have asked me (apropos the earlier post) if I thought Kurian "won" an argument.
Not yet, but he is doing pretty well. Of course, he is taking the ass-whuppin he deserves (in my opinion, and according to Saunders' Law) for his remarkably poorly argued and bigoted column.

But the response has not been "What a stupid argument you made!" (Though this one is pretty close; well done, Dave!)

It has been "The Chronicle should be closed down for publishing this," or "Kurian should be arrested, or punished." Or, even "Duke should be boycotted by all Jewish students and alumni, because an independent student newspaper published one editorial by one student seeking attention for making an outrageous argument."

(Full disclosure: I know PK well, and consider him a friend. He's a good guy, smart and concerned about the welfare of others. He recently won a Melcher, for excellence in journalism , as well as a Truman.)

Here's the way that academic freedom works, for faculty and students, IMHO.

1. All opinions can be expressed, and publicly evaluated, if even one person wants to do so. I mean all: racism, sexism, even a claim that pro wrestling and the NBA are fake. All opinions.
2. All opinions must be supported by an argument, which will be judged by its use of logic and evidence. Judging arguments by "I'm offended" is ruled out.

Kurian violated #2, as I see it. His column was ad hominem and poorly argued in the extreme.

But the critics are violating #1 when they say that Duke, or the Chronicle, or even Kurian should be punished for allowing this opinion to be heard. He can certainly be abused in print or in person for expressing a view that is nonsense, but he cannot be sanctioned for having violated the rule against saying something stupid or offensive, because there is no such rule.

It seems to me Kurian has done a great service. We at Duke are now going to have a conversation about the view he expresses, which in my opinion is fairly widely (though secretly) held by lots of people on the left. Since (again, in my opinion) this view simply does not bear scrutiny, it may force people to rethink that view, which until now they have been able to maintain without challenge.

So, yes, Kurian is on the verge of winning, since one of his claims was that some shadowy conspiracy of fear prevents alternative views from being expressed. To the extent that a heavy-handed response makes him a martyr, rather than just a person who holds an opinion supported by neither logic nor evidence, he wins.

If all we do is call him an Anti-Semite, he wins. For an array of responses, see this. The original post is perfect: the worst thing you can do to bad arguments is quote them verbatim and in context. Way to go, LGF! But then if you look at the responses, you see that the desire is to blame the Duke faculty, the larger University, the newspaper, and probably the state of North Carolina, for the fact that one badly argued and patently incorrect view was held up to full scrutiny by publishing it in a newspaper.



Anonymous said...

umm...held just by people on the left? Where does Pat Buchanan stand on the issue?

I would rephrase that to say that a fair number of people on the extreme poles of the social issues dimension hold such views.

Tommy, the Wannabe Ph.D. (and Canuck, but the dissertation is pumping along)

Steven said...

I'm not really convinced you could say Kurian is winning an argument based largely on blog comments (and yes, I'm aware of the irony of making this claim in a blog comment).

Even the Chronicle's editor admitted today that she would have edited the language if she had the chance to do it over again. Why the article strikes so many people as particularly offensive--and say that the Chronicle should be faulted for running it--is the raging double standard. If I ran a column suggesting that, say, that Muslims could "take off the turban" to reduce negative feelings towards them, I would almost certainly (and rightly) be called a bigot. That has to be a large part of the reason for such an uproar--campus Jews see that they can be insulted in public forums in ways that would be totally unacceptable for other groups.

Not that I think anyone should stop supporting Duke--and how many big alums read LGF comments anyway?--but I think that there is a legitimate grievance here concerning the editorial decision to publish this article.

Mungowitz said...


TtwbC: I said "at Duke." That't the academic left I'm talking about. There is no academic right, to speak of. K. Grease is a freakin' libertarian nutjob, but comes as close as we have to "the right."

Steven: perfectly fair to criticize the editor. Dumb mistake. Let down the community served by the paper, and tarnished its name. I'm just saying that the University should not expel, or otherwise punish, anyone. If the Chronicle decides it was poorly led, it may want to choose a new editor. I did not mean to imply that publishing the Kurian piece was unassailable. Let the Chronicle take its ass-whuppin, too!

Steven said...

Fair enough. I wasn't aware anyone was suggesting any kind of judicial action against Kurian, though I admit I tend to avoid reading comments on the larger political blogs. That would of course be wrong, though if the Chronicle chose to fire him as a columnist, that would seem to be a defensible position.

Anonymous said...

Who really cares if Kurian is "winning" or not? I'm definitely with you that he shouldn't be expelled from Duke, and also that he thoroughly deserves the "ass whuppin" he's already getting. However, I think people should seriously reconsider whether this fool should get a Truman. I certainly don't want bigots like him to be my future public servants, any more than I want my tax dollars to pay for educating him.