When I was an
undergraduate at Dickinson, it was perfectly fine to have a conversation with
someone with whom you disagreed. Even if you disagreed quite strongly. A lot of
my friends were in favor of legalizing drugs.
Cocaine was the drug of choice then, as I recall. People snorting it at parties was not an
uncommon event, and it was even a feature of some of the movies that came out
at the time. I recall such a scene, I
think, in Crocodile Dundee, which then was a very popular movie.
So my friends who used drugs advocated
for it, and guys like me, many of whom played sports, either ignored them or pointed
out that we couldn’t use drugs even if we wanted to as we enjoyed our sports
too much to screw up our bodies with drugs.
And sometimes, when one of the guys would make what he thought was a
really strong case for cocaine or some other drug, we might mutter to ourselves,
“What a jerk! What a stupid opinion!” or something like that, as we walked
But we didn’t “report it.” We didn’t go to an office on campus to turn the person in. And we wouldn’t, just because our friend held what we deemed to be an erroneous point of view, have wanted him investigated or kicked out of school or suspended or anything else. We just thought he was a jerk and we moved on. And maybe the next time a similar conversation presented itself we had, in the meantime, thought of further cogent arguments against his position, and maybe, just maybe, we would share these with him, if the occasion lent itself to such a continuance of the discussion. And when he didn’t listen a second time, we probably walked away muttering in a similar fashion to the first time.
So what ever happened to that approach to disagreements, even big disagreements? This week I read about a football coach getting suspended because when asked what three historical personages he would like to have dinner with he said, in addition to JFK and Christopher Columbus, Adolf Hitler. Now mind you, I would personally have no interest in having dinner with a genocidal maniac like Adolf Hitler. JFK, sure, why not? Columbus, maybe. But Hitler, no. But that’s not the issue. The issue is that that coach was suspended merely for holding that opinion. Not, “Let’s talk this out together so I can show you where you’re wrong.” Not even a question like, “Why would you say that?” Instead it’s just a matter of eradicating the problem. Maybe destroying the guy’s career. Killing discussion. And there is to be a “thorough investigation.”
An investigation of what, I wonder? Is it an investigation of what other stupid opinions or desires or fantasies the guy holds? Why not just walk away and think, “What a jerk!”? Or think, hmm, “Well that wouldn’t have been my choice,” or think, “Well, I’d rather slug Hitler upside the head than have dinner with him!” Any of those responses or even more vitriolic ones seem to me not to be out of order. But to investigate someone for having a fantasy about a dinner engagement? All I can do is simply to think about those administrators responsible for suspending him in the very way I thought about the student arguing for legalization of cocaine back in college.
So what I want to know is what ever happened to just walking away and shaking your head in disgust? Or as e.e. cummings puts it:
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
 N.B. I am not here making a case for his point of view; just the right to hold it and to be scorned for holding it. Take away the right for the interlocutor to respond scornfully and not only does a coach possibly lose his job but you lose the opportunity to express your disgust at that or any other point of view. Killing a discussion is not solving a problem but it is rather merely the wielding of power. And, in many ways, it is in its own right as distasteful as a poorly thought out choice of dinner companion.