Don’t Want to Debate? Delegitimize Your Opponent

mob pitchforks

There are two ways to win an argument. The first is to calmly and rationally argue your position, gathering evidence and presenting it in a reasonable way that considers all the tradeoffs of various policy options.

The other is to stamp your feet and scream and denounce and ban and delegitimize.

We’ve seen a couple examples of the latter option deployed this week. This morning, Rod Dreher noted that Ryan T. Anderson, a friend of mine, has been blacklisted from presenting his calmly argued and thoughtfully reasoned (if not entirely persuasive*) case against gay marriage at Stanford University. Here’s the Stanford Daily:

Last Wednesday evening, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) denied funding for an event hosted by the Stanford Anscombe Society (SAS) following community outcry over alleged “anti-LGBT” content. …

Bringing the speakers to Stanford would threaten the safety of campus for the queer population, according to Brianne Huntsman ’15, who started a Facebook event to organize a rally at the GSC meeting on Wednesday night.

“A lot of students who are queer come to Stanford because it’s one of the most LGBT-friendly places in the world,” Huntsman said. “I grew up in Utah, where it was really conservative and a lot of us come from similar backgrounds, and we feel that we every time we go home. Stanford is supposed to be a safe space for us.”

The appearance of Ryan T. Anderson—who, I can assure you, is not a terribly imposing individual—at Stanford University would “threaten the safety of campus for the queer population.” Assuming that they’re not worried about Ryan embarking on a rogue gaybashing campaign—again, he’s not a big dude—all they had to fear was … his speech. An argument. An argument that makes them uncomfortable. Those in favor of gay marriage have won. And instead of relitigating any of these arguments, they have chosen to simply delegitimize those who would oppose them. They are bigots not to be taken seriously, charlatans who should be shunned. This sort of anti-intellectualism taking place on the campus of one of our nation’s most esteemed colleges should shock the conscience.

Should. Doesn’t.

We saw much the same yesterday when Gay Twitter** embarked on a Two Minutes Hate of Ezra Klein and his new venture for daring to hire someone who disagreed with certain aspects of the gay rights movement. Indeed, Brandon Ambrosino’s gravest sin appears to be that he has called for gay activists to actively avoid delegitimizing the opposition. Here’s Ambrosino, writing in Time:

The current landscape of queer politics is growing increasingly hostile. We no longer prize intellectual conversation, preferring instead to dismiss our opponents in 140-character feats of rhetoric. We routinely scour the private lives and social media accounts of our political opponents in the hopes of demonizing them as archaic, unthinking, and bigoted. Whenever we find an example of queer hatred, we are quick to convince the public that the only proper way to deal with these haters is to hate them.

As if to prove Ambrosino’s point, the hate spewed forth when his hiring was announced. Mark Joseph Stern—himself a noted fountain of reason and enlightenment—lambasted KleinCo and described the new hire as “reckless, retrograde, and vapid,” someone who traffics in “lazy, fallacious apologia.” Stern, and those who agree with him, seem to think Ambrosino should never work again. He thinks the wrong things, you see. He must be blacklisted as a lesson to other people tempted to think the wrong things.

As Andrew Sullivan noted this morning, Ambrosino’s “critique of gay-left intolerance gains a little poignancy as the rhetorical lynch mob now prowls the interwebs in order to get him fired.”

This is, of course, one of the uglier aspects of the politicized life. When those with whom you disagree are not just wrong but also evil they and their ideas are unworthy of debating with. They are to be mocked and vitriol is to be heaped upon them—but their arguments are not to be touched. To do so would be to grant them a veneer of validity and run the risk of having their ideas contaminate the public at large.

And we wouldn’t want that now, would we?

*I’ll be honest: I’m not persuaded by the argument. But it’s one that raises tough questions and invites legitimate debate.

**Like Black Twitter. But, you know, gay.