Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Enjoy the Tyranny of Silence: for You.

Fishy FiSH finds this execrable Crimson piece perhaps "the most disturbing thing I've read all month." I'm inclined to agree. The reason I agree is a matter of scope: knowledge production is inherently full of spillover effects, many of which are obscured by distance in both space and time. Who knows what unseen benefits (and yes, even costs) a piece of research could provide (inflict) halfway round the world or a century hence? Angry mobs aren't particularly well-suited to curate the stock of human knowledge. Raw knowledge enters material production non-ergodically, unpredictably. Silence research at the peril of threatening distant prosperity. This is obvious stuff (see Blackstone, Hume, or for a lay version, Paine. inter alia).

But grant for a moment that a student has a legitimate gripe about the production function of her university. Typically, when an organization acts in bad faith, customers can quickly and easily withdraw their patronage, signalling discontent by boycott. But university students are something apart from typical consumers, right? They're a bit like contractual constituents, in the asymmetric-coercive constitution node, voluntarily agreeing to be instructed and judged by subject matter experts. It's quite costly indeed for a college student to withdraw because someone in another department published a paper on HBD (to pick an example from the op-ed). BATNA disparity if you will.

The way academics engage each other is in the journals. Or maybe in the blogs these days. Or if you really have the cojones, on le Twitter. But what if you're a inchoate undergrad? Is it reasonable for adults to expect fleecy teenagers to refrain from storming the barricades?


But, as they say, getting there from here is no quick bus to Tipperary. Enlightenment memes of peaceful, liberal association and academic freedom are not self-evident. There is no armistice in the war for ideas. No Versailles. No Verdun. No Westminster. Intemperate tyranny lurks in the breast of anyone on the outskirts of the winning coalition. Virtue's garden requires constant tending.

Grab a billhook and get to work, folks.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?