A New Philosophical Underpinning of College Etiquette


Rob Soave’s article on Reason’s Hit & Run Blog — about a bisexual student who found bureaucratic trouble at the University of Texas–San Antonio when he told a classmate (outside of class) that he has reservations about Islam given the number of Islamic countries in which he could be put to death — is worrisome and interesting for a variety of reasons.  The possible angles span from the hierarchy of intersectionality to the deterioration of academia to the threat of being sent to “the Behavior Intervention Team” to the professor’s reflexive anti-Americanism (likening the United States to the countries to which the student referred).

Those interested in how people construct their views and arguments, however, might be interested in this snippet of the recorded conversation between student Alfred MacDonald and Philosophy Department Chairwoman Eve Browning:

BROWNING: Those are things that would get you fired if you were working in my office. The Islam comment would get you fired.

MACDONALD: …Would it really get me fired to say that I could be killed somewhere?

BROWNING: In that situation as you’ve described it, absolutely yes.


BROWNING: Don’t even ask. It’s clear you’re not taking my word for it. I don’t care to convince you. If I can’t persuade you that it’s in your interest to behave in ways that other people don’t find offensive and objectionable, then at least I’ve done my job.

MACDONALD: Well I know that it’s in my interest. I’m just trying to understand the reasoning.

BROWNING: You don’t have to.

MACDONALD: Well, this is a truth-seeking discipline!

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The spectacle of a progressive college professor telling a student that he doesn’t have to understand the reasoning behind an asserted standard is almost too close to type to be believed.  Note, too, how well the exchange counts as evidence toward my repeated observation that the political postures that people take at any given time are among the most superficial aspects of their being.  In earlier eras, Browning would likely have taken exactly the same sort of stance on the traditionalist views that progressives claim to reject.  One suspects that the desire to assert certitude and power comes first, and the ethos draped around that desire is the ephemera of the time.

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