April 30, 2008

Underneath the Valley of the Expelled . . .

Oh, dear.

In our eagerness to combat The Evil Ben Stein, we're now referring to speech as a "brushfire of controversy"? That's a heck of a metaphor to apply to free speech. Got to extinguish them stray ideas, yo.

And now David Linden, who was sweet and lovely enough to send me the above link, is thinking, "ah, but—yes. The difference is that this speech is subsidized by the government, and whether we call it 'creationism' or 'intelligent design,' our conclusion must be the same: this cannot be subsidized by the State."

Linden is right, of course. But that is the predicament we have gotten ourselves into as a result of thinking that education must be a function of the State. And that therefore scientific inquiry itself must be an arm of the government. Do not get me wrong: I want all the benefits of that, too. I want my fellow citizens to have gobs and gobs of "free" education (or, perhaps, free "education"). But not to the point of muzzling academics, or policing thought.

And certainly not to the point of censorship within the academy: the idea of proving "thought crimes" by going back to the previous draft of a book (as in the video linked on the home page above) to establish intent is outrageous in the extreme. What's next?—finding an article that I've fact-checked, reverting to the original text, and using that submitted manuscript to prove that the publication I was working for meant something other than what it agreed to publish?

Whaaaaat? A publication makes a correction, but should be accountable for each early draft?

I'll concede that Stein might have been so horrified by what he found during the making of Expelled that he fell off the intellectual balance beam on the other side.

But I do not care. History will correct Ben Stein's mistakes, just as it corrected Darwin's. And I shan't cower on this side of the balance beam out of fear.

What cannot be corrected is the stifling of intellectual exchange. If we didn't have that, you'd be researching the four humors, Baby. Cutting up rats and looking for Earth, Wind, and Fire in their little rodent brains. *

The difference between us lies in what we hold dear: what is sacrosanct to some is the ideal of science, a desire to hold it precious above all else, and not to see it sullied with error. To others, it's speech.

Here's my perspective: Error will always be with us. What we must have is the agency for correcting same.

Neither ideal is absolute. Neither can be absolute. I'm not going to defend yelling the word "fire!" in a crowded theater, and you aren't going to defend someone who looks for flaws in the theory of evolution, and posits a stopgap notion—or, to the athiestic way of thinking, someone who "cheats" (or throws up his or her hands, acknowledges the mysteries of the universe, and utters the phrase "intelligent design").

So you are intellectually married to Imperfect Science, and I am married to an even more Imperfect Search for Truth. **

We must, of course, both push on. But always, always looking through the looking glass to the other's side, here and there. However darkly.

* Though I'm not sure that would be so bad; they were the best. To you, Sweet Thing. And to World Peace.

** Keats told me that it's the same thing as beauty, but Keats never researched the careers of serial killers. Nor, as I understand it, did he cut up rats.

Posted by Attila Girl at April 30, 2008 08:32 PM | TrackBack

The ironic bit about "yelling 'Fire' in a crowded theater" was that it was said by a Supreme Court justice in his opinion upholding a sedition charge against a man whose "crime" did not consist of yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater, but of pointing out that military conscription violated the Thirteenth Amendment (which is plainly does).

Posted by: John at May 1, 2008 03:36 AM

Yea, I mean I still think that talking about God and so forth is a philosophical questions. It's not science, it's metaphysics. But I don't think it requires any witch hunts or anything. All sorts of really lame science is done, funded by the government. Trust me, way more bad experiments are done, fully government funded, with crazy liberal ideas than there are ones with crazy conservative ideas. ;)

A lot of people need to just go take a cold shower and a nap and get over themselves.

Posted by: silvermine at May 1, 2008 07:35 AM

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