Monday, March 21, 2005

Bradbury's Vision

The calls to fire University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill continue, and that worries me. It’s amazing how proud we are of free speech in this country until someone says something we don’t like. Granted, Ward Churchill’s comments comparing the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks to Adolf Eichmann (one of the chief architects of the Holocaust) were ludicrous. His claim that the victims of the World Trade Center attacks are citizens of this country and are responsible for the repercussions that stem from our foreign policies is absurd. But I don’t think that he should be fired for those comments. I would much rather see his attendance in his classes wither away because he has lost credibility, which would then likely lead to him losing his job. Too many people are so quick to stifle dissent – to silence anyone whose opinions are different or offensive. The solution instead should be to combat those opinions and show how ludicrous the arguments really are.

In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury creates a world where silencing different or offensive opinions has run amok. The story isn’t just about book burning, but about preventing different (all) opinions. In the dystopia Bradbury creates, no one talks (or even thinks about) politics because it causes people to disagree, and with disagreement comes unpleasant feelings. Instead, simple entertainment dominates peoples’ lives. There is a war looming but the characters hardly discuss it.

This has relevance to other recent issues. When a Harvard University President says that the differences in the numbers of males and females in the sciences could be due to scientific differences between the sexes – that men are naturally better at the sciences – he shouldn’t be fired or asked to step down. That only takes the debate away from what he said. Instead, all efforts should be directed at talking about why that idea is so ridiculous. We don’t want to live in a world where everyone is afraid to express opinions that might be on the fringe – we don’t want to live in a world where the only thing to do is watch mindless entertainment like Desperate Housewives and ignore the important issues for fear of offending someone.