Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A positive step for public discourse.

Separate the man from the speech.

Joshua S. Trevino writes concerning the furor of the moment:

The Erik Loomis affair is one of those Internet furors of the moment that consume massive time and attention, and then are swiftly forgotten once the desired scalp is obtained: in this case, that of an intemperate and agenda-driven history professor who has a long record of saying unintelligent and offensive things. On online mob has therefore formed against him, and the consequences — a public rebuke from the President of his university — seem fairly serious. (Maybe they’re not — I don’t know academia — but they seem that way.) In mere days, this will be generally forgotten, except of course by the subject himself.
 
One could hardly defend Loomis and his record on the merits. Nevertheless, one can note that this might not be, well, justice. My only interactions with the man revealed him to be offensive and somewhat dim: he loathes Texas, is a rather pedestrian academic-left radical, and seems to have problems moderating his tone online. These are bad things. (And, reversing the ideological direction, it is not wholly unlike myself.) But they are not the whole man: and they don’t rise to the level, in my book, of wanting to render him bereft and ruined.
 
Left-radicalism in the academy is a problem. Extremist rhetoric on the left is normalized. Bad behavior on the left is excused, and the same on the right is ruthlessly punished. These things are baleful features of modern public life, and there is a school of thought that holds that force must be met with force: that the answer to their mob is a bigger and better mob of our own. I adhere to it myself depending on the mood and circumstance.
But ultimately, I am not sure we want to be like them. I’m not sure we can be. In trying, we buy in to their Big Lie, which is that all things are intrinsically political, and the full measure of the man is his public face. Well. That’s where one must draw the line. I know only the Erik Loomis that Erik Loomis has shown me: for all I know, when he’s away from his computer, he is a devoted husband, a loving son, a charitable provider, a caring mentor, et cetera. I don’t have to know, because he doesn’t owe me — or you — those bona fides. What we owe him and everyone else, though, is the benefit of the supposition that this may be the case.
 
What I am sure of is that bringing low an Erik Loomis only sows bitter harvests later. He earned his opprobrium, but not his destruction. We on the right are charged with persuasion — a thing we’ve notably failed at of late. Every moment we spend destroying is a moment lost to that task.

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