I've gotten a certain amount of flak for defending John McAdams' piece in WI Interest. I am, depending on who you listen to, in the tank for all conservatives or for anyone and anything associated with Marquette, presumably in an attempt to curry favor with my new paymasters. (I doubt they're all that impressed.)
So what happens next, but John McAdams takes issue with my views on the Folsom Street Fair. Apparently John and I failed to get the memo that we are supposed to think alike.
But watch, here's the way that this political debate thing can work.
John's position has a certain realpolitik attraction. If the game is to shut up your opponents by insisting upon one-sided standards of propriety, then it may be necessary to respond in kind. John thinks it's like a prisoner's dilemma. Both sides would be better off if they stopped trying to shut up their opponents, but if either one stops unilaterally, it'll get creamed. Describing the impact of an ordinance that prohibited only certain types of "hate speech," Justice Scalia summed up the kind of debate that John is concerned with:
One could hold up a sign saying, for example, that all "anti-Catholic bigots" are misbegotten; but not that all "papists" are, for that would insult and provoke violence "on the basis of religion." St. Paul has no such authority to license one side of a debate to fight freestyle, while requiring the other to follow Marquis of Queensberry rules.
But the thing about a prisoner's dilemma is that the players are prisoners. They must play and they have no ability to try to change the rules of the game. But we don't have to play. We (and I mean people of varying political views) can try to point out that throwing a conniption fit every time you hear something that you don't like is no way to go through life. We can try to reassert the value of free and rational discourse. All of that will carry more credibility if we try to avoid our own conniption fits.
I suppose that John would say that I am naive. I may think I can reason with people about this but I can't. In a political war, you can't throw beanbags if the other side has rifles.
In this view, it is useful that someone on the right tries to match the left in the sensitivity sweepstakes. Think of it as a politics of mutually assured destruction. In an iterated prisoner's dilemma, both sides learn to cooperate because their defection is repeatedly punished by the defection of the other side. (Think of the computer's game of tic-tac-toe at the end of the spectacularly bad 80s movie, WarGames.)
(I appreciate that some people on the left are going to say that they are the ones that need to react to the aggression of the right, although in the case of academia raised by John, it would seem that the breakdown is usually as he says.)
Is Professor McAdams right? I am not as pessimistic about the prospect for cooperation without retaliation or that one doesn't actually win points in this game by taking the high ground. I am also influenced by a comment by Dad29 on John's blog. He thinks that I am "surprisingly laid back" about attacks on Western civilization. (He must not have gotten the groupthink memo either.)
But he's wrong. I'm not so laid back. There are some attacks on western values - of which overweening political correctness is one - that you cannot be laid back about. This is another area where the PD breaks down. There are areas where I must defect and, unless you try to change the rules of the game by pointing our what's wrong with perpetual offense and attacks on discourse, that defection will destroy the cooperative equilibrium. That's why I think you have to be careful about when and why you boycott.
The PD analogy suggests that toleration of opposing viewpoints is a weak strategy. People would really prefer a world in which their views are tolerated and opposing views are not. They can only be made to buy into cooperation (in this case, toleration) by the threat of retaliation. That, if it is true, is itself an abandonment of the values of western civilization and we ought to point that out.