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Off the Top

The Stoop Report EP: 1 – Off the Top

 

Free speech, is it being restricted on college campuses? If so, does anyone care? Mick stakes his claim as Bryan throws counter punches. Meanwhile, Bryan has been waiting to get something off his chest… Uber drivers need to learn where to pull over. GET OUT OF THE FLOW OF TRAFFIC! But hey, talk to your drivers, you never know who you’ll run into. Enjoy.

 

Wilfrid Laurier University: Inspiring Censorship

It’s hard to keep up with all the drama steam rolling university campuses these days, and often times I wonder why we should even care, at that age aren’t we all just trying to discover ourselves as we embark on our journey through nascent adulthood? Just let the kids figure it out for themselves, self-discovery after all only comes with experience and self-reflection.

That conventional wisdom is apparently lost on certain campus administrators and faculty, who feel students no longer need to think through issues on their own because they themselves already know what constitutes as true, so why open up issues for debate or discussion? Just ask Communications studies department professor Nathan Rambukkana at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, who hauled in his teaching assistant Lindsey Shepard for having the audacity to show a short-clip of a TVO debate featuring two professors from the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson and Nicolas Matte, debating the necessity of compelled speech (here), mandating proper gender pronoun use, such a as “ze” and “xyr” and whether it should be bound by Canadian law (It was eventually under Bill C-16).

The reason for the inquisition stemmed from a “student complaint” that the nature of the video caused “harm” and created a “toxic climate for students” simply by playing a short video clip that had already been seen by thousands of people on Canada’s version of PBS. Professor Rambukkana accompanied by Professor Herbert Pimlott and Adria Joel, manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support, grilled Shepard for almost an hour in what resembled and Orwellian styled modern day witch trial that ended in accusations of transphobia and the potential crime that she had violated Canada’s Human Rights Law by playing a video debate on contemporary issues. Rambukkana stated the need for the arguments to be introduced “critically” and that playing a video of the opposing view by Jordan Peterson (against mandated gender pronoun use) as tantamount to “neutrally playing a speech by Hitler”.

How do we know this? Shepard secretly recorded the conversation on her laptop.

After the recording was released, it sparked quite a large public debate, where donors were threatening to pull funding for what was perceived to be a culture of censorship that runs counter to the spirit of the university, which has enshrined in its motto Veritas Onia Vincit (Truth Conquers All). After some public relations juggling, the president of the college Deborah MacLatchy and Professor Nathan Rambukkana both issued an apology to Ms. Shepard, after the highly publicized recording caused well deserved outrage and backlash.

Oh and another thing, the student that complained, never existed. It was fabricated by the professor and no actual complaint whether formal or informal was actually filed.

As bizarre and dystopian as the above story is, it begs the question, can we as a free and democratic society tolerate views that we disagree with or should we prevent them from ever being discussed for fear that they may offend our sensibilities? Shouldn’t we weigh the merits of an argument through careful scrutiny and dialogue, and continue the debate until we can find common ground before it is turned into policy or at the very least agree to disagree? Or do we simply impose our world view onto others and avoid the difficult task of having those discussions in the first place? Maybe we should start by allowing people to discover that for themselves, instead of preventing them from hearing differing opinions in the first place.

Education: The Foundation of Democracy

by Drew Colvin

Freedom from ignorance is essential to the success of any democracy. If we value liberty and the principles of our democratic system, then education must be tasked with supporting the institutions that uphold it. The absence of a well-informed public is the greatest threat to American democracy that far exceeds anything foreign-born. James Madison, Founding Father and the 4th President of the United States, once wrote “Learned Institutions ought to be the favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.”

This threat on our liberty is pervasive today as large segments of the population view education and expertise with distrust and outright contempt. A recent report from Pew Research Center shows that the majority of Republicans believe that “colleges and universities have a negative effect on the way things are going in this country.” This sentiment has been developing over years and even decades, but seems to have accelerated with the rise of Trump and populism in America.

Before Trump, we have seen examples of distrusting experts from climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, and even more shockingly, flat-earthers. During the campaign, Trump promoted this idea by saying “the experts are terrible. Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have. Look at the mess.” Since inauguration, we have seen this position manifest itself as neophytes were chosen to lead critical government agencies such as the Departments of Education, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development .

Education is important for many reasons, not the least of which is the preservation of a government that serves its people. Without it we are prone to the degradation, corruption, and collapse of our institutions. A general lack of education makes us vulnerable to sliding into a dictatorship, or at the very least a corrupt oligarchy that serves the powerful few rather than the masses. The electorate must be educated to understand how the government is meant to function, to discern good ideas from bad, and to make informed decisions about who will represent them.

Founding Father and first Chief Justice of the United States, John Jay, stated the following:

“I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic, and as the weak and the wicked are generally in alliance, as much care should be taken to diminish the number of the former as of the latter. Education is the way to do this, and nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining a proper degree of it at a cheap and easy rate.”

In other words, those of us who are disadvantaged or feel left behind become natural followers for aspiring leaders with impure intentions. There will always be people in the world with bad motivations or with interests contrary to those of the populace. Therefore, the most effective way to undercut the power of these bad actors and strengthen the republic is by spreading education.

Part of what brought us to this point in which experts and education are derided is the growing inaccessibility of higher education. The exponential growth in the cost of higher education and the related stratification of social classes has caused an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. For those who feel that higher education is beyond their means, contempt of education is an understandable act of self-preservation.

For the good of the nation, we need to return to collectively valuing education. A good education should be accessible to everyone and continued education must not be a privilege of the rich. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in support of public education: “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom, and happiness.”

From Tragedy to Triumph

Las Vegas Nevada 2

by Drew Colvin

The senseless killing and maiming of scores of concert goers in Las Vegas this weekend has our country reeling. Once again we are forced to ask ourselves why these mass shootings continue to happen on American soil. I hope that this tragedy is an impetus for a thorough and honest evaluation of the causes and solutions to the problem, however history tells us that lasting change is unlikely.

With that said, I have been heartened by the media’s coverage. Instead of focusing on the murderer, much of the coverage these past few days have been focused on the stories of the innocents who were lost and the heroes who emerged as the attack was unfolding. From the first responders and civilians who used their bodies as human shields, or carried away the wounded, or served as field medics, to the broader community who has stepped up to donate blood, time, and resources. These are the stories that matter.

Part of the motivation for these diabolical attacks seems to be the infamy that comes with it. An opportunity to be remembered. It is easy for the media to fall into the trap of focusing on the attackers and giving them the attention they crave. We need to be careful not to elevate them or give them a platform. Murderers don’t deserve to be remembered.

By focusing on the positive stories that come out of such a tragedy, we take away the power from would-be attackers. It gives us a sense of hope that there is more good than evil in the world. The victims deserve to have their lives celebrated and their deaths mourned, and the heroes deserve to be exalted for their courage and selflessness.

If every attack makes our communities stronger and makes us love our neighbors harder, then good will always win.

Youth in Revolt: No Safe Spaces for Free Speech

war

Student activism on university campuses during the 1960s contributed to some of the most profound changes in American Civil society in the twentieth century, reflecting the frustrations of the youth with the status quo and a desire to rebel against it. That spirit embodied various socio-political movements seeking to challenge traditional gender roles, the war in Vietnam, and racial discrimination, marking an exceptional period of civic engagement and disobedience in American politics.

This coming of age political awakening is best exemplified in the Freedom of Speech Movement (FSM) at the University of California (UC) at Berkley in 1964, where student activists, inspired by the Anti-War and Civil Rights Movement, demanded the university lift restrictions on student participation in political activities on-campus. Students saw this policy as an infringement on their freedom of speech and staged massive demonstrations in opposition to the ban, culminating in the largest mass arrest in California history. Under intense pressure, the university eventually gave in to student demands and overturned campus policy prohibiting political advocacy in a landmark victory over the limitations of free speech.

The FSM sought to free students from university intrusion into their personal lives and assert their right to speak freely, rejecting the notion that the university be a “safe space” void of political debate and affiliation. Fifty years later, freedom of speech on campus is again under duress, this time not by campus administrators, but by the students themselves. Today, students now seek to limit freedom of speech instead of promote it.

Recent protests at UC Berkley over the invitation of Conservative speakers Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopolous, and the university’s decision to cancel their events have drawn both sharp criticism and praise from both sides of the political spectrum pushing freedom of speech back to the forefront of the national debate. Protesters assert the university should not support individuals who promote “hate speech”, while supporters argue their right to free speech is being trammeled simply by having a different point of view. This age old philosophical clash between conservatives and liberals is no longer treated as differences among friends, but an ideological war between bitter enemies. Debate has been replaced with slander aimed at attacking credibility rather than the argument, and honest dialogue has given way to dogmatism, preconceptions and suspicion.

The ideological conflict has begun to alienate even those who share similar political leanings, by ostrasizing anyone who objects to the more extreme positions held by the group, regardless of how uncompromising it is. For example, earlier this year Evergreen College, a liberal arts school in Washington State, descended into chaos after student protesters shut down school campus, and effectively held the president of the university hostage over accusations of systemic racism. The catalyst stems from the college’s “Day of Absence,” a tradition where students of color would leave campus to demonstrate what school would be like without them. This year, organizers suggested that this tradition happen in the reverse, requesting that white students and faculty leave campus while nonwhites stayed. In an email sent to faculty, Professor Bret Weinstein, who is white, challenged this suggestion, stating that he supported anyone voluntarily leaving campus, but rejected any demands that forced people to do so. He was met with student protestors who interrupted his lecture, accused him of racism and prevented him from continuing his class, eventually forcing him to flee from campus amidst threats of violence.

Psychology Professor John Haidt of the Heterodox Academy attributes this new phenomenon partly to political polarization on the national level, but mainly to the dearth of intellectual diversity on college campuses, which over the past 30 years has become increasingly more one-sided. He notes that liberal professors overall outnumber conservatives 17:1, and even more for disciplines in the social sciences, leading to considerable bias in academia. The imbalance is not necessarily seen as a bad thing, but the lack of political diversity across all departments removes any challenge that normally would exist as a check-and-balance to ideas promulgated in the classroom. As a consequence, students may not be exposed to other perspectives that differ from their own, leading to ideological entrenchment and reactionary outbursts when they finally do. Haidt believes this is why we are seeing a rise in campus turmoil, stating:

What’s happening on campus is clearly linked to what’s happening nationally, but at least nationally there are two sides and on campus there is often only one side, and so you can get much more extreme ideas. For example, one that I’m hearing a lot just in the last year is that words are violence, the idea that speech that is offensive to me and my group is actual violence, not metaphorically, and this is an extremely dangerous idea because it’s not all hurtful speech that’s violence, it’s just your speech that’s violence, the speech on my side can be as hateful as we want, but we are entitled to it because we’re just defending ourselves. This idea is implicated in the rise of actual physical violence on college campuses.

Haidt predicts this current trend will continue as college’s wrestle with how to strike a balance between defending the right to free speech and placating student outrage over views they find “offensive”.

The rise of groups like the Alt-Right, supporters of far-right ideologies, and Antifa, supporters of far-left ideologies, demonstrate the dramatic extent to which polarization has deepened in our society. The breakdown in dialogue and curtailment of speech, either voluntarily or coerced, has emboldened extremist elements on both ends, forcing those in the middle to gravitate towards the fringe instead of the other way around. This political tribalism appears to worsen when moderate voices are drowned out by the louder, more dogmatic ones creating further division in perpetuum mobile.

Jordan Peterson, psychology professor at the University of Toronto, who came under fire for his opposition to compelled speech outlined in Canada’s Bill C-16 mandating proper gender pronoun use, had this to say about free speech:

You have to let people talk. They don’t even know what they think until they talk. You think you think and then you talk, it’s like, no you don’t. Most people can’t think at all, and I don’t mean that in the pejorative sense, it’s very very difficult to learn to think, because to think you have to hold an argument between two opposing positions in your own head, you have to delineate both positions and you have to do that alone, but to expect anybody other than an unbelievably well trained mind to even step into that territory is naïve beyond belief. Almost everybody thinks by talking. They don’t even know what they think until they speak and so often if you let people speak they’ll become aware of some internal contradictions or maybe they shock themselves, that happens a lot, it’s like “oh I can’t believe I said that” and they reveal them self to them self. That right there is often enough to change them, but even if it isn’t, let’s say they are particularly intransigent, you want that out in the air, so that people can hear it. You want to drive the people who hate underground? We know what happens psychologically when you do that. It’s a very bad idea. Anything you drive underground thrives, it thrives, and it partly thrives because it’s not even allowed to express itself, and then it festers and turns into hatred that far exceeds the original. And the idea that you make society safe by not letting horrible people say terrible things is not a good proposition. You want those people out in the open where they can say what they have to say. First of all, so they can see what they are like, and second of all, they can see how people respond, because you don’t even know what you should think, in some sense, until you watch how people respond. Free speech is not a value, like mercy or justice: it’s the fundamental problem-solving mechanism of humanity.

Peterson argues that the process by which people think is not fully formulated until it is articulated in speech. The very act of voicing an opinion can often change after it is expressed, because it becomes a tangible idea subject to scrutiny even by the person making the original claim. In this way, the ability to speak freely is more constructive then simply shutting it down, because you allow people the freedom to think and modify their position voluntarily. Therefore, we should allow people to articulate their thoughts, right or wrong, and initiate a conversation where those ideas can be debated and negotiated.

The students of the free speech movement had it right, at least conceptually; now we must decide if we are willing to uphold their legacy, in spite of our differences, otherwise we risk fracturing the very system that allows us to resolve them in the first place.

Hello Stoopers!

By Drew Colvin

It feels prudent to kick off the blog with some background of what brought us here.

We Stoop Reporters started this project because we saw political discourse deteriorating and wanted to do something about it.  Republicans ran right, Democrats are running left and everyone is expected to pick a side. Wherever you stand, the other side is evil.

Well we don’t want to pick a side.

We value all views that are expressed thoughtfully, respectfully, and are accompanied by a willingness to listen to other viewpoints.

Without dialogue and without working towards finding common ground, we will be torn apart as a society.

Enter the Stoop Reporters. We don’t claim to have a monopoly on the truth and we don’t claim to be experts. We only want to do our part to contribute to constructive discourse. Striving towards intelligent conversations and learning as we go.

Just a group of guys, sitting on a stoop, trying to save the world one rambling conversation at a time.