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Letter to the Editor: Kristian Stenslie

First and foremost, I want to make it clear that this article is in no way meant to assign blame to any individual or organization.  I also don’t think what I have to say is particularly controversial, though I suspect some may take it as such.

The war of Liberal vs. Conservative runs so deep that even those of us who want to avoid ideological labels inevitably get grouped with one side or the other, as is evident in terms such as “alt-right.” Mainstream media doesn’t help the issue, as it stands to gain from convincing its viewers that we are at war and that there are two sides: us and them.

While it is clear that this mentality of “good guys and bad guys” is deeply embedded in our discourse, I believe that positive change will result if we can alter it.  Instead of “us vs. them,” the model should be simply “us vs. ignorance.”  The battle between good and evil isn’t simply between states or between individuals—it’s fundamentally internal.  Though the process of change manifests itself at the national level, it must begin with the individual.  

As someone who has considered myself a liberal for as long as I can remember, I have a sense of how passionate we can get about issues of social justice.  However, this passion is something we must be careful about.  When you believe without a shred of doubt that your perceived political opponent is evil or bigoted or hopelessly ignorant, you likely won’t hesitate to do whatever it takes to silence them. But if we’re going to celebrate “punching Nazis,” who’s going to decide who the Nazis are? The values we hold can turn against us if we push them too far or for the wrong reasons.  In the words of Christina Hoff Sommers, “History is one long lesson on the danger of combining misinformation and moral fervor; you get fanaticism.”

I’m afraid we’ve recently witnessed an example of such “misinformed moral fervor,” though I would love to be proven wrong. Largely due to the complaints of students (as I understand it), Ben Shapiro was uninvited from speaking at Concordia.  At first I didn’t much care; my general impression was that he was a heartless conservative provocateur.  Weeks later I did some digging and decided to watch some of his videos, and I found myself very disturbed. I found Shapiro not to be a heartless provocateur, but to be a passionate, critical, respectable, and extremely articulate speaker.  At least, that’s my conclusion after watching hours of him lecturing and debating online (this is not to suggest I agree with all his views).  

Don’t get me wrong, Shapiro certainly has an intimidating stare and tone.  But there was no shortage of videos of him respectfully debating and answering questions, trying to get to the root of the issue and make himself understood.  So why were students anxious about inviting him?  After all, he’s the one required to hire a significant security force as a result of the threat of protester violence.

The justification seems to revolve around Shapiro’s views on transgenderism.  He openly calls it a mental disorder, and refuses to call a biological man a woman and vice-versa.  I’m not here to defend his position, but I will argue that we shouldn’t shy away from it. The value of a college should rest in its ability to challenge ideas, and to challenge them we must understand them.  It’s naïve to assume Shapiro is going around calling transgenderism a mental illness simply because he’s malicious.  If we understand the reasons for his opinion, we will be well equipped to challenge it.

I simply ask, what could we have gained from hosting Shapiro?  Conservatives on campus might have felt more adequately represented, and those who disagree with Shapiro would have had an excellent opportunity to pit their knowledge, experience, and education (for crying out loud!) against Shapiro’s beliefs in a structured setting.  If you have faith and knowledge in your values, you should not be afraid to have them challenged.   If you have conviction in your ideas, you should not be afraid of being offended.  As Jordan Peterson warns us, “If you’re going to cancel everything that’s triggering to everyone, you’re going to cancel everything altogether.”

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