Straw Men and Tiddlywinks

October 17, 2008 12:00 am0 comments
Mike Wacker

Fifty-thousand dollars. That sum of money could not pay for four years of tuition alone at Cornell University, and an individual person donating that much could not even get half of a classroom named in his honor. It is enough money though, to cause some people to raise a fuss when the Veritas Fund for Higher Education donates it for the promotion of intellectual diversity.
Basically, intellectual diversity is the novel concept that one should understand a diverse variety of viewpoints. That’s hardly a radical or conservative notion. When someone does not have an intellectually diverse viewpoint, you can often tell by some of the silly arguments they make.
For example, many conservative Christians initially refused to join the fight against HIV/AIDS, now recognized as a universal social ill, due to a misinformed belief that God was punishing gays.
Not only did that argument have both shaky scientific and theological premises, but if you really think about it, the group least likely to contract AIDS would not be male-male couples nor male-female couples, but female-female couples.
Somehow, I find it hard to believe that these people would espouse that it is written that God hates gays but loves lesbians.
As for the issue of racism, while I have developed a reputation for fighting the abuse of the race card, from the diverse perspectives I have seen on race I know that actual, not alleged, discrimination often happens as a result of selective enforcement. Basically, one enforces the law to different degrees for different groups and claims they were just “enforcing” the law when anyone complains about it.
For example, Dean of Arts and Sciences Peter Lepage was quoted in The Sun as saying that, “To varying degrees, all foundations have agendas.” Yet while every organization has an agenda, some people seem to be selective in terms of what agendas they question, namely ones perceived as conservative.
If I could put this in perspective, as I was writing this column, my Blackberry started to vibrate. When I picked it up and read my new email message, I discovered it was UWire’s opinion newsletter; the second part of the subject line read, “Bias OK in classroom?”
Or consider Sun columnist Gabriel Arana, who previously defended the use of student funds to pay for a lecture about anal sex, but has now called into question the use of independent money to help fund The Program on Freedom and Free Societies.
And on the topic of the anal sex protest, by reducing the conservative response to a moral crusade against anal sex, Arana missed the main point. Conservatives never objected to Cornell hosting the lecture; they objected to the fact that they had to help foot the bill.
Perhaps they are crazy, but then perhaps so is Sun columnist C.J. Slicklen for suggesting that students should be allowed to allocate the non-essential portion of the student activity fee only towards the clubs and events they are interested in. If Slicklen’s “moral crusade” succeeded, there probably still would be enough students who would fund the anal sex lecture, but it would solve the underlying cause of the protest, in addition to preventing students from paying the bill for the Tiddlywinks club.
So perhaps, Arana, who has on several occasions put himself on the forefront of the fight against intellectual diversity, should give a little more respect to ideas other than his own. Or if he cannot do that, at least he can try to avoid contradicting himself.
For example, when I once suggested that scientific research on LGBT issues was being guided more by a blind faith than objective analysis, Arana called me out for criticizing the science of a culture critic, Sandra Bern, rather than a true scientist, Daryl Bern.
In case you have not noticed the similarity in their names, it is not only because the two were married, but they both are professors (one emeritus) in the Department of Psychology. So how one is a cultural critic and the other a scientist baffles me.
In spite of this, I am still inclined to agree with Arana. After all, since Sandra Bern invented the Bern Sex Role Inventory (as I mentioned in my prior column), a fundamental cornerstone that a lot of LGBT research depends on, I would not exactly be disappointed if its credibility was shattered because it was invented by a cultural critic and not a scientist. And all based not on my words, but Arana’s.
Like I said, when you fail to properly understand the opposing side, you can make some silly arguments.
I also bring this up because while Arana says I should have picked a more serious critic, as part of his dismissal of conservative discourse, he relies on what he terms a more satirical article in The Cornell Review, not a more serious one.
Now if Arana was the only one who treated conservative thought this way, I could overlook it. But it is not just him. Consider last school year’s Student Assembly resolution to support concealed weapons on campus. While I do not have the same interest in this as some of my colleagues, I was nonetheless impressed by the case they made, especially in regards to Utah, where concealed weapons are allowed on campus.
The Student Assembly, on the other hand, failed to consider them seriously, trading intellectual discussion for inflamed rhetoric. Mark Coombs, who by no means is a crazy right-wing lunatic, was told by Ryan Lavin, now President, that the good name he had developed would instantly vanish over his support of this resolution. Furthermore, so many people were raising the specter of shootouts and all kinds of crazy scenarios, all of which had never happened in Utah according to the evidence.
Or, from their perspective, they exchanged an open and honest discussion of the issues for the politics of fear that America has suffered for the last eight years.
So in regards to Arana’s assertion on how conservative discourse has contributed little to the campus, it depends on whether you talk about true conservative views or the weak straw men that Arana and others set up.

Mike Wacker is assistant web editor at The Sun. He can be reached at mwacker@cornellsun.com. Wack Attack appears alternate Fridays.

Comments