Protecting the Playing Field of Ideas
Issue   |   Tue, 02/28/2012 - 23:48

A worrying refrain among the comments on The Student’s website during the recent debates on heated issues on campus was that The Student should have censored or “hacked off” certain student voices, believing them to be irrational or offensive.

We understand that a heavy responsibility falls upon newspaper editors to show journalistic integrity by hand-picking those articles of good taste and intellectual value, all the while considering the welfare and temperaments of the student body. One treads a fine line between censorship and offence, and The Student tries its very best to walk this line with care. We hope no student wants us to fall to either extreme — either by shutting down opinions that might face opposition from any student or group of students, or alternatively, publishing everything that comes our way, no matter how hurtful or distasteful it may seem. We want students to know that we consider these lines, and we generally make it a policy to publish all material we receive provided they are not personal attacks or blatantly offensive. This is because we believe that the true defeat of a fallacy or other opinion never comes through the heavy-hand of forceful censorship, but through intellectual debate and thoughtful argument — which can only begin with a thorough consideration of all the implications and evidences of an argument.

Recalling the foundations of liberalism, we must remember that any kind of censorship assumes a belief of one’s absolute correctness. For any one person to decide what opinion is correct and what is not violates the fundamental liberal idea that no human can be all-knowing and that logic and reason prevail in public discourse to enlighten the mind to truth. This does not mean that one must agree with any of the opinions presented to them. By subscribing to the idea of publishing a plurality of opinions, we waive the need to agree with said opinions; we ask you to do the same when reading them. But showing arrogant ignorance toward an idea does nothing to cement the validity of one’s own argument, and it does nothing to debase their argument in the public discourse. Persons of conviction must not give up the defense of their ideas, and there is no surer way to ensure surrender than to turn a blind eye to the constant presence of such an enemy. Such ignorance makes us forget the importance of defending such an idea, and no doubt will lead to us forgetting the argument entirely.
In our highly personalized internet environment, we surround ourselves with tumblrs, publications and friends that share our biases, and thus we blind ourselves to new and potentially compelling ideas from the other side. Our responsibilities as liberal arts college students are to expand our knowledge, sharpen our argumentative abilities and be as open-minded as we are intellectual and discerning. Students shouldn’t expect a campus-wide newspaper to shelter them from arguments that a plurality of Americans subscribe to. There is no need to strengthen the sociopolitical bubble in which college students already live. We need to shape ourselves as intellectuals, understand the values of tolerance as it relates to freedom of speech and be principled defenders of the ideas we so passionately hold.