Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Happening Right Here, Right Now

This is just messed up, and frankly borders on incomprehensible. That someone might be coerced into censoring themselves... no, this is more than self-censorship. That someone might choose to remain entirely silent, rather than risk delivering a philosophy paper, is an absolutely horrible indicator of some kind of deep pathology within contemporary society.

What's doubly troubling, however, is that its difficult, if not impossible, to understand why this happened at a fundamental level. We can understand the chain of cause-and-effect at a superficial level: Some people looked at a piece of copy on a poster, got worked up, then created an propagated a meme that Peter French is virulently anti-Serb. Chaos ensued, leading to threats and ultimately the decision to cancel his appearance. But in order to go beyond the superficial we need to understand the reasoning behind the getting worked up.

Most of the time when I'm writing about some conflict its pretty easy to see why something happened. You may have to work at it a little bit, dig to expose the rationale underlying public statements, but usually the reasoning can be found if you care to look for it. But Dr. French's detractors, the Serbianna web site and Ms. Illevski, don't seem to have any obvious motivation. The Serbianna article in particular lacks any sort of substance; we're left positing that they were just looking to start a fight.

Such an assumption, however, is totally unsatisfying; people's motivations are more complex than that. But such information about their underlying motivations is simply not to be had. Which is a sorry state of affairs; until such a time as we can understand why they chose to get all riled up we can't address their grievances (if legitimate), which means that crap like this is likely to happen again in the future.

Update 1

Reading some of the comments at the Volokh Conspiracy, it seems that some non-negligible subset of people feel that Dr. French should have expected this sort of thing. To which I'll reply: It's certainly reasonable to expect criticism, but veiled threats of violence (being "told to expect a very unpleasant experience") are totally illegitimate.

Update 2

Sweet Jesus... the Serbian Consulate apparently got into the act as well. Some wonder he decided to cancel the damn thing.

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