Charles Murray runs into the Heckler's Veto

I’ve been collecting stories of how enforced groupthink, accompanied by either implied or explicit threats of turmoil, shapes the behavior of academic institutions.  The latest speaker to get hooked off the stage by the “heckler’s veto” is American Enterprise Institute scholar and renowned author Charles Murray.  He has published an open letter to Azusa Pacific University, where he was scheduled to speak until someone accused him of thoughtcrime:

I was scheduled to speak to you tomorrow. I was going to talk about my new book, ???The Curmudgeon???s Guide to Getting Ahead,??? and was looking forward to it. But it has been ???postponed.??? Why? An email from your president, Jon Wallace, to my employer, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said ???Given the lateness of the semester and the full record of Dr. Murray???s scholarship, I realized we needed more time to prepare for a visit and postponed Wednesday???s conversation.??? This, about an appearance that has been planned for months. I also understand from another faculty member that he and the provost were afraid of ???hurting our faculty and students of color.???

You???re at college, right? Being at college is supposed to mean thinking for yourselves, right? Okay, then do it. Don???t be satisfied with links to websites that specialize in libeling people. Lose the secondary sources. Explore for yourself the ???full range??? of my scholarship and find out what it is that I???ve written or said that would hurt your faculty or students of color. It???s not hard. In fact, you can do it without moving from your chair if you???re in front of your computer.

You don???t have to buy my books. Instead, go to my web page at AEI. There you will find the full texts of dozens of articles I???ve written for the last quarter-century. Browse through them. Will you find anything that is controversial? That people disagree with? Yes, because (hang on to your hats) scholarship usually means writing about things on which people disagree.

This is reminiscent of what happened to Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Brandeis, where someone supposedly noticed controversial writings she penned a decade ago, days before she was scheduled to receive an honorary degree.  If nothing else, these extremely expensive university administrations are doing a shockingly poor job of vetting their speakers.  I guess none of the six-figure staffers at these august institutions knows how to use Google.

But that’s all just a smokescreen for what’s really going on here.  The university administrators make these embarrassing public statements, implying they had no idea the blacklisted speaker ever said anything controversial, but what’s really going on is that some little gang of malcontents threatens to pitch a fit, and the administrators capitulate.  Charles Murray has an extensive body of scholarship and has written several very popular books; almost all of it is proudly “controversial.”  The idea that the president of Azusa Pacific University suddenly realized, a couple of days before the speech, that he might need more time to “prepare for the visit” is risible.

Murray’s definition of scholarship as “writing about things on which people disagree” is entirely accurate… and hopelessly antiquated.  Modern “scholarship” is more about enforced consensus and groupthink.  Topics are forbidden based on the entirely subjective, and frankly political, basis that some group might find them offensive, no matter the speaker’s intent.

It doesn’t even have to be the sort of turbocharged offense that has, at least temporarily, torpedoed Murray’s sppech at Azusa Pacific.  The “climate change” movement is almost entirely about controlling objectionable speech and suppressing the analysis of dissenters, and even inconvenient data… based on some alleged “consensus” that has become a living organism unto itself, capable of taking offense at the ideas of “deniers,” who are treated as the quintessential thought criminals.

Consensus is a political concept that has little to do with science or scholarship.  By definition, it is the effective suppression of dissent on a practical level – it doesn’t matter what 40 percent say, because 60 percent have spoken.  It’s interesting how this quickly and almost invariably descends into groupthink and hostility toward free speech, not just free action.  The hive mind understands that its power is diluted by the kind of challenging disagreement Murray praises in his open letter.  Permanent victory against opposing ideas can only be secured by rendering them unspeakable.

As Murray notes, “The task of the scholar is to present a case for his or her position based on evidence and logic.  Another task of the scholar is to do so in a way that invites everybody into the discussion rather than demonize those who disagree.  Try to find anything under my name that is not written in that spirit.  Try to find even a paragraph that is written in anger, takes a cheap shot, or attacks women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, or anyone else.”

He is, of course, missing the point, and he knows it.  It doesn’t matter if any of his books were written in anger, take cheap shots, or explicitly denigrate preferred groups.  The people who shut down his speech are not interested in inviting anyone into a broad discussion, because they don’t want the discussion to get broader.  They’re hoping to strangle ideas they don’t like, because that’s how you “win” debates in America these days.