Commentary

De Nobis Fabula Narratur

Students were wrong to heckle Doug Wilson

POSTED AT 07:37 PM ON Apr. 17, 2012 

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Last Friday at Pastor Douglas Wilson’s lecture, “Sexual by Design,” I saw prejudice on display. It was not a prejudice cast from the mouth of a man so roundly branded a racist and homophobe.

Rather, it was a prejudice revealed by a crowd of people who have adopted a viewpoint and let it ferment for so long without going unchallenged that they regard themselves as maintaining a monopoly on truth.

Their belief in their truth was so strong, in fact, that many would not even hear what Wilson had to say, with some even going so far as to create a heckler’s veto — which, by the way, does not constitute an exercise of “protected speech,” as many tried to argue — to make sure others couldn’t hear what he had to say, either.

It seems that the hecklers either forgot how one comes to truth in the first place or just didn’t care. Truth comes from the marketplace of ideas where different beliefs go to be analyzed and critiqued, resulting in a truth greater than the sum of the ideas that came before it.

This systematic method of truth-finding is the foundation of our liberal education and the bulwark that has provided us with 200 years of progress unknown to most of human history.

For this system to work, though, ideas need to be permitted to be presented and worked through. The method of suppressing ideas merely because one disagrees with them has been the work of kings and tyrants for millennia, to the detriment of progress and truth.

I was hoping that in attending Wilson’s speech, I would be permitted to hear a thorough working-through of his argument and my peers would listen to what he had to say and engage those ideas in a lively and respectable manner.

Instead, one dissident, representing a multitude of those in attendance, approached the microphone and prefaced his attack on Wilson by proclaiming his own intolerance, stating, “I really didn’t listen to anything you said.”

By saying such a thing, the dissident was displaying not only his intolerance for the speaker but also his intolerance for our liberal truth-finding system.

The dissident believed himself so infallible that others need not bother him with their differing opinions, as he had the whole of the truth and to hell with the rest.

As John Stuart Mill argued, for people “to refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty.”

When it comes to the point when someone claims the authority to decide truth for all of mankind by refusing the right of others to judge truth for themselves, it is clear that that person no longer harbors a true, living belief but rather, as Mill might describe it, a dead dogma.

It is important to remember that even if Wilson’s beliefs are wrong, which is impossible to prove absent God himself coming down from the heavens to reveal the true meaning of the scripture, his ability to present his opinion still has some benefit.

Is it not true that truth becomes more powerful and better understood in confrontation with error?

Indeed, it was Mill who also said, “Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there is no enemy in the field.”

If not out of respect for the progress our liberal truth-finding system has provided us, people should embrace the opportunity to engage with the likes of Wilson out of respect for their own beliefs.

Because it is only through such opportunities that our beliefs are honed and improved, like a muscle, gaining strength through repeated exercise.

­— nperrino@indiana.edu

 

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