Cancelling Controversy

You’d think universities are where controversy could flex its delts.

Isn’t controversy a purpose of a university? To test out new ideas by debating them and see which ones survive perpetual trial by enquiry?

Not any more. Higher education isn’t in the truth business so much as in the virtue business. The world I want, or rather, want back is one where I don’t always have to respect your views; I just have to tolerate them. And you, mine.

While few professors support ousting colleagues who hold unfashionable or even nonsensical views (like the idea that vaccines cause autism), I still think banning something because it will offend someone is about as valid a reason for cancelling it as a sudden rainshower is. I’m in favour of abortions, and think anti-abortionists should also have the podium. I’m no fan of Israel’s making life miserable for the Palestinians. But banning campus speakers because they’re Jewish veers into anti-Semitism. Remember, 31 member states of the United Nations still believe that Israel has no right to exist.

But lest you think that controversy itself is being cancelled in the academy, take heart. In 2018, three professors started a new academic publication whose first edition came out this April. The Journal of Controversial Ideas offers “a forum for careful, rigorous, unpolemical discussion of issues that are widely considered controversial, in the sense that certain views about them might be regarded by many people as morally, socially, or ideologically objectionable or offensive.”

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