I know we probably use this phrase far too often around here, but there’s little more to say as an opener. What could possibly go wrong?
After repeated attempts at having conservative speakers address the assembled masses at U.C. Berkeley over the past couple of years turned into literal riots, someone has stepped forward with an innovative solution. The school’s new chancellor, Carol T. Christ, is going to open a dialogue as part of a “free speech year” where she will see that everyone is taught how to peacefully coexist and engage in meaningful, civilized debate, leading to a better understanding of the points of view of all sides. And as soon as she pulls this miracle off, I say we send her to Palestine and North Korea because the woman will have definitively proven that she has supernatural powers. (LA Times)
Christ said the campus would hold “point-counterpoint” panels to demonstrate how to exchange opposing views in a respectful manner. Other events will explore constitutional questions, the history of Berkeley’s free speech movement and how that movement inspired acclaimed chef Alice Waters to create her Chez Panisse restaurant.
“Now what public speech is about is shouting, screaming your point of view in a public space rather than really thoughtfully engaging someone with a different point of view,” Christ said in an interview. “We have to build a deeper and richer shared public understanding.”
Rather than immediately mock these efforts, allow me to offer at least a golf clap in the Chancellor’s direction. Those are all the correct words and the sentiment, however unlikely, is a worthy goal which everyone should be striving for. If such an idyllic condition could actually be established it would represent a model for American political and social debate which would be cherished and applauded around the world.
With that out of the way, let’s lurch back from the Land of the Smurfs to 21st century American reality. Milo is coming back to town later this year. Ben Shapiro is scheduled to be there next month. For all I know Coulter is already booking her tickets for a return engagement. And none of the actors on the playing field have changed dramatically since the spring.
This sounds like one of the hobbits setting out a banquet table for a peace summit between the orcs and the elves. Rich plates of their favorite foods are at the ready, with comfortable chairs, fine silverware and full goblets of their favorite beverages. Then, when both delegations arrive at the door en masse, you suddenly remember that you forgot to take away their weapons, that none of the orcs speak the common tongue and you realize that somebody’s head is already on a spike before you can finish your opening remarks.
It’s not just the students at the campus who show up for these events. It’s a national draw. (Though plenty of the students are experienced, violent protesters themselves as well.) You can hold all the classes you like on positive dialogue and productive discussion, but when the first molotov cocktails begin flying there’s little that’s going to wind things down short of the National Guard showing up.
Hey… maybe she’ll prove me wrong. I’d love to see it happen. But if you bring a conservative firebrand into enemy territory to address the College Republicans (and everyone else) we’ve already seen what’s going to happen. But still, I wish you good fortune in the wars to come.