The threats and boons to our dialogue: Ancient American Traditions

Posted by Brian Connor

As a follow up to my piece about McCarthyism at the college, which I believe was an important critique of how our community is currently conducting itself, I'd like to say a few words about writing to this community in general. Now, from my last column, you may have concluded that I despise Danny, that I feel he should be silenced.

Quite the opposite is true. For while I despise what this "dialogue" has devolved into, I thoroughly admire Danny for his resolve this past semester. I have been moved by Danny's writing but also criticized it, a stance which, despite the Sociology department's suggestions, is not contradictory whatsoever.

Call it a Saul-to-Paul moment, call it what you will, but after seeing the same concerns voiced in the message boards of my column, and the same insensitive language that appears on Danny's columns each week, I began to admire Danny as I never had before.

I wrote my article knowing that I would receive tons of support just for the mere fact that I was criticizing Danny. Danny writes his column each week knowing that, if past weeks are at all an indication of what's to come, that dozens of trolls are going to immediately jump on him and criticize him, no matter what he writes. He has become the vocal leader of a movement that has brought ugly truths about our community to the forefront of discussion, and he has knowingly and willingly made himself an easy target for critics of these truths.

The Skidmore News comment boards have become a bitter arena for dialogue and highly vindictive criticism of writers like Danny, and myself to some extent. But they also provide an essential check to our and other writers' power, a humbling reminder of our responsibility to our audience.

Some of the comments have exceeded the boundaries that common courtesy dictates, however, to the point where vulgarity and even fighting words have appeared on the Skidmore News website. These comments aren't appropriate and are detrimental to our dialogue.

On the other side of the same coin, when members of the community get themselves so worked up about these hate-filled comments that they lash out and make outlandish accusations toward individuals and campus organizations, they become those "shutter-minded embracers of intolerance" that they seek to condemn.

The good people at the Sociology department threw Danny under the bus. It would have been appropriate if they had offered a well-reasoned argument against anonymous online commenting. But instead, they dragged Danny into a misplaced, ill-conceived, even threatening, demand for allegiance to their conception of open-mindedness. They posed the question of Skidmore identity in absolutes, rather than in a format that acknowledges the multiplicity of viewpoints and identities that Skidmore fosters.

Rather than encouraging all-inclusive dialectic exchange over a topic fraught with complexity, they advocated strict allegiance to what they posed as a moral dilemma, that is, you are either on the right side (you endorse and heed Danny and company's writing and viewpoints) or the wrong side (you disagree with Skidmore's notions of multiculturalism and Danny's writing and thereby implicate yourself as a "shutter-minded" embracer of intolerance).

This letter in particular moved me to compare our situation to that of American society in the McCarthy era. A healthy and free society depends upon, is predicated upon, the ability for someone as controversial as Danny to speak his mind. Many of us may not agree with what Danny has to say, but I hope each and every one of us can agree that we must all defend his right to say it.

That being said, we must defend others' right to criticize his writing and condemn it. We cannot allow our dialogue, our ongoing community-wide discussion, to solely honor one interpretation of our philosophy of applied multiculturalism.

This discussion is too critical to Skidmore's legitimacy as an institution of higher learning, and a community devoted to multiculturalism, to allow it to be hijacked and dominated by the most vocal and extreme 10% of commentators. By responding to, and thereby legitimizing, inflammatory comments with equally inflammatory charges, the framers of the dialogue are doing just that.

I hope that our dialogue can transcend this semester's vitriolic online commenting, move beyond the accusatory declarations we've read in the Skidmore News, and genuinely learn from the divisive ideological conflict of the Compton's incident, to recognize and invoke our shared beliefs and interests.

Though Danny has devoted his column to pointing out what's wrong with our society and community, in doing so he has demonstrated exactly what's right with it. When an unpopular and controversial perspective can be voiced, and can resist being silenced, then one of America's, and Skidmore's, foundational promises has been fulfilled.

And when trolls can democratically and anonymously disparage someone's opinion online, humiliate an author, and challenge preconceived notions of civility, then one of the Internet's fundamental promises remains intact. Bring it on, trolls. You're messing with a Vatican assassin who has tiger blood flowing through his veins.

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