Thursday, July 7, 2016

Political correctness attacks again

University of Bologna (1088)
Since the foundation of the Western universities, starting at the eleventh century, these centers soon became places for debate, where different topics of discussion were raised by two or more specialists who defended the different sides of the issue to be discussed, after which the audience could decide for one or the other position, or for both at once.
This debating function of the universities has persisted for many centuries (we are near turning a millennium). Now, however, political correctness, this new form of censorship, threatens to end this activity in the universities.
Consider the headline of the story:
Oregon State University Socratic Club Debate Cancelled
And the first paragraph:

The Oregon State University Socratic Club’s planned debate for Feb. 24 titled “Is Gender a Choice?” was cancelled after the group received threats of protests from the community in addition to the one of the two main debaters dropping out in the lead up to the event.
This is the explanation given by the Socratic Club:
The Oregon State University Socratic Club recently cancelled our event on the topic “Is Gender a Choice?,” which had been scheduled for February 24th. One of our speakers withdrew for personal reasons. Our speaker felt uncomfortable participating because of reports that the event would be protested by members of the transgender community. We respect the decision of our speaker and have therefore cancelled our event.
This news was commented in his blog by the philosopher Victor Reppert with the following headline:
              Even treating some issues as debatable is considered offensive by some
At first glance, the wish not to offend seems commendable, but if it is carried to the extreme, we’ll get to aberrations such as the one mentioned in this post. There are things that political correctness should never be able to forbid or force, even if someone feels offended, because otherwise important issues would be endangered, such as science, freedom or democracy. I will cite a few:
Portrait of Dante
by Sandro Botticelli
  • Every question must be debatable. No one should feel offended because something is put under discussion. Free debate is essential for the scientific method. If it is curtailed, science itself will be threatened.
  • Sometimes we hear criticisms against the pejorative sense of some words. Various entities request that a given sense is removed from the dictionary. This is an unacceptable mistake. If a word has ever been used in a given sense (even though it is no longer in use, even if it offends somebody) that sense must appear in the dictionary. Otherwise, certain texts (perhaps classics) would become unintelligible.
  • Every book that has ever been published should be considered unchangeable, except by its author. Others should never be allowed to do so. I know about a few bleeding cases: my edition of the book The Story of Dr. Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting, carries a foreword by his son where he says that he has changed the text his father wrote, with the agreement of the publisher, because in some places the Africans were called savages, and today this is politically incorrect.
  • There have been requests by Muslim organizations that The Divine Comedy be changed to remove the part where Muhammad appears in hell.

I have said that political correctness can endanger democracy. A different question is whether freedom or democracy still exist somewhere in the world, or if we have already lost them. But that is a different story.

Manuel Alfonseca

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