PLYAM: Why fear debate?

When I came to Yale for the first time this fall, I was told it would be a place where I could explore opinions contrary to my own, where rational discourse was cherished above all else and where individuals who fundamentally differed in their values, views and backgrounds would come together to investigate the beliefs of others in search of a more complete education. I looked forward to last night’s Yale Political Union debate with Senator Rick Santorum for these exact reasons. And although the debate largely met my initial expectations of what discourse at a university should look like, the decision of a group of undergraduates to deliberately walk out before Santorum’s speech left me appalled and bewildered.

The Y Syndicate, a student protest group, asked audience members to “walk out and refuse to engage in this spectacle” in a flier the group distributed before the debate. According to the flier, Santorum’s sole purpose was to “spew ignorance and hate,” and inviting him to speak was an “attempt to legitimize ignorance and bigotry.” When the senator stood up to speak, this group stood up and filed out of the hall.

This group’s actions were misguided and hostile to the public discourse it claims to support. I agree that every person has the right not to listen to Santorum if he does not want to. But portraying Santorum as somebody with views so wretched and unforgivable that they are beneath debate is the ultimate intellectual cop-out. It allows dissenters to hide behind a wall and claim that, although the opposition may make valid arguments, we ought not recognize them. Santorum did not deserve this treatment. His speech used facts and logic, not appeals to prejudice. He grounded his conclusions on a structure of premises, statistics and experiences which — though anyone can freely disagree with them — can hardly be labeled “ignorant.” Only the unabashedly arrogant could claim that any view which doesn’t coincide with their own must be wrong.

Furthermore, Santorum’s views are clearly not just those of an irrelevant minority. As a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Santorum received over 3 million votes and won 11 primaries and caucuses. Do those who walked out truly feel so self-confident that they can dismiss an entire realm of thinking without offering any reasons why? Santorum’s willingness to use statistics and reason — regardless of whether he reached conclusions I agree with — ought immediately to qualify him as deserving a debate.

Treating political opponents as unworthy of acknowledgement is pure cowardice. As opposed to making a sincere attempt to understand or refute Santorum, the orchestrators of the walk-out merely pasted a few of Santorum’s most controversial stances on a six-by-nine inch pamphlet and, assuming the audience would rather laugh at Santorum’s quotes than think critically about them, dismissed his views entirely.

Then, in an irony almost too perfect to be real, the letter concludes: “Interested in real political thought, discourse, and action on campus? E-mail ysyndicate@gmail.com.” Thanks, but no thanks.

Yale’s true leaders of political dialogue opted to remain in Woolsey Hall last night, challenging the senator with insightful questions and enthralling rebuttals. One questioner critical of Santorum asked about his views on minimum wage. Others delivered speeches including point-by-point refutations of Santorum’s views.

Everyone who stayed in their seats that night — Santorum included — understood that the only way society can advance is through the reconciliation of opposing ideas in an open dialogue. If everyone followed the Y Syndicate’s advice, Yale would not be half as intellectually stimulating as it is today.

“I appreciate all the responses I’m getting,” Santorum said while audience members both hissed and cheered. “Even the snake noises. The fact that you react to my facts — it’s hope.”

Say what you will about his other positions, but Santorum hit the nail on the head. Nobody should be unfairly castigated or ignored because he holds different opinions. The hope for genuine discussions about political issues that Santorum spoke of is the same one I had when I decided to attend Yale. It’s a shame that not everybody believes in it.

Zachary Plyam is a freshman in Calhoun College. Contact him at zachary.plyam@yale.edu.

Comments

  • River_Tam

    It takes a certain sort of narcissism to attend an event you’re not being compelled to attend just so you can leave in protest.

    • kdaysandtou

      Or, a belief that such an action makes a kind of statement worth making. It’s not a belief I share but you’re being obtuse.

      Not to mention that you’re in no position to talk about narcissism.

      • River_Tam

        > Or, a belief that such an action makes a kind of statement worth making.

        It is the “belief that such an action makes a statement worth making” which is narcissistic. Going to and leaving a speech is not in and of itself narcissistic.

        > Not to mention that you’re in no position to talk about narcissism.

        Narcissism (n)

        1 Excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance

        2 Extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type

        3 Self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects, either in very young babies or as a feature of mental disorder

        While I freely concede #1, I think you were more interested in definition #2, which I assure you I don’t suffer from in the least. I have a very humble view of my own pedestrian talents (I’m good at some things, and bad at most) and I assure you that if I craved admiration, I wouldn’t be posting conservative comments on a website with predominantly liberal readers. If anything, I’m a glutton for punishment.

  • FrankThomas123

    “If everyone followed the Y Syndicate’s advice, Yale would not be half as intellectually stimulating as it is today.”

    Yo, freshman! Watchu know ’bout Yale?

  • eli1

    Welcome to Yale freshman…where its perfectly acceptable to share your views (but only so long as they align perfectly with the liberal/feminist/LGTBQ/minority agenda)

  • eli1

    PS…this article was spot on and did a much better job at defining the Yale experience than I could ever do. Please get used to the fact that the idea of free discussion at Yale is an absolute farce. It will make dropping 50k/yr on an education of liberal propaganda easier to swallow.

  • inycepoo

    Welcome to Yale, freshman. As righteous and noble as your views are in this column, you’ll soon find that it’s only really “acceptable” to express your views at Yale if they fit into the liberal, pro-LGBT, and left-leaning landscape that most of the undergraduates here hold. Even for cases of debate, it’s usually different shades of liberals going against each other for the most part. I only hope that you yourself fall into this category, lest you be in for a nice surprise somewhere down the line.

  • Robbie

    I’m glad to see Mr. Plyam becoming so engaged in campus affairs this early on in his education here.

    However, before anyone is influenced too heavily by the comments posted on this article, remember: Yale University has produced some of the most brilliant conservative thinkers of all time, as well as some of the most powerful down the road. As such, calling what the school can provide “an education of liberal propaganda” is hardly the truth. I feel that, as one of the greatest universities on Earth, Yale merits a little more respect than that. At the very least, such a status shouldn’t be denied it over student protesting, something that’s gone on at every college across the country and the world for decades.

    tl;dr chill Internet, it will be fine.

    • River_Tam

      > Yale University has produced some of the most brilliant conservative thinkers of all time, as well as some of the most powerful down the road.

      The term “forged in hell” comes to mind.

  • FrankThomas123

    “Santorum’s willingness to use statistics and reason — regardless of whether he reached conclusions I agree with — ought immediately to qualify him as deserving a debate.”

    Rick Santorum, last night at the YPU: “Now, all these facts I’m citing doesn’t prove there’s causation [between the government growing and families splitting]. But it doesn’t mean there’s not!”

    While I do not form part of the Y Syndicate, I believe that the freshman writing this article entirely misunderstood the purpose of the walk-out. By taking collective action to disengage with the spectacle of a YPU debate with Rick Santorum, those who walked out refused to show respect for ignorance and bigotry. In the same way that inviting and engaging civically with a neo-Nazi would be unacceptable on the Yale campus, the protestors believed that inviting Rick Santorum to Yale’s largest platform to intellectually engage with his ideas would be harmful to our campus dialogue.

    • River_Tam

      Godwinned.

  • eli1

    Just remember that at Yale using the word “slut” is “sexual assault” but repeatedly aborting your unborn children in a bathtub and spreading their remains between layers of plastic wrap can only be labeled as “art.” Only at Yale!!!

  • MW

    There’s a trend among fans of debate to separate cause from effect, word from action. This way of thinking stems from a widely accepted belief that ideas are valuable in and of themselves. There are other ways people say it: “Hear all sides.” Or: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”

    I say bullshit. Ideas aren’t magically valuable; they’re worth only as much as they imply. An idea only becomes relevant as soon as it influences someone to do something. And ideas derive their value from the actions they inspire. That’s why free speech has its limits. So I say: no, don’t shout fire in a crowded theater; no, don’t shout God Hates Fags near a funeral. Because saying everyone is entitled to their opinion is a blank check to influence the world for the worse. If Rick Santorum’s bigoted views inspired anyone in that auditorium, the world has become a worse place for it. Yale should not have offered him an audience.

    I’m a freshman too, so I can’t speak for the Y Syndicate, but I chose to walk out of Santorum’s speech right about when he said that kids without a mom and dad are destined to become worse people. And if you really disagreed with his conclusion, you should’ve walked out as well.

    -Max Weinreich ’16

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Just remember that at Yale using the word “slut” is “sexual assault” but repeatedly aborting your unborn children in a bathtub and spreading their remains between layers of plastic wrap can only be labeled as “art.” Only at Yale!!”

    **Why is Ms. Schvartz’s art any less a challenge to the violence in society than Picasso’s La Guernica?
    Schvartz’s “creation” raises the questions our society wishes to ignore or deny: the immorality of the cultural debasing of the female body and its gender-defining feature, pregnancy, i.e. the kernel of creation itself.
    It is a profoundly conservative artistic gesture. Yale should be ashamed for censoring her.
    PK
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Paul-Keane-Independent/355332381206168**

  • shadythomas123

  • weezyfbaby

    ZPLIES JUST MURDERED DEM

  • RIR

    The “it’s all in the spirit of a lively debate” argument has a few flaws.

    First, peaceful protest is about expressing views, much like speech is. It is not inherently “hostile”.

    Second, I can only speak for my own actions in the protest (and I’m not part of Y-Syndicate), but I wasn’t protesting Rick’s views or right to speech. He absolutely has a right to speak. I was protesting the actions he took as a public leader to restrict people, on the basis of consensual sexual behavior, from having and maintaining jobs, being parents, being safe, serving their country, and etc. (Check his legislative record. He has led in putting or maintaing serious boundaries on my ability to be a mom, feel safe, and do the normal things I have a right to do as an American citizen.) These actions are hostile. And many of us in the protest were trying to physically show (i.e. by holding hands and walking out) – especially to our peers who might be closeted or intimidated – that Yale is a safe space.

    Third, not all debate is equal. Who is defining the sides? There’s a tendency to think the truth lies in the middle or that the middle is somehow “moderate.” Many views are indeed “so wretched and unforgivable that they are beneath debate.” (For example, we could choose to debate if women’s bodies can block rape pregnancies, and that view would be so wretched and unworthy of conversation. And giving a platform to that speech would be totally legal and also shitty and below Yale/YPU.)

    There is a view among many in our generation of elite students that protest is inherently something hostile or anti-intellectual. This fundamentally misunderstands what protest is trying to do.

  • RIR

    P.S. Graduate students were a big part of the walk out too. : )