GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

July 27, 2006

The Free Exchange of Ideas

Filed under: GA — ericgans @ 12:42 am

[Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison] Kevin Barrett told a Milwaukee talk show host in June that he believed that the U.S. government used “controlled demolitions with explosives” on Sept. 11 to bring down the World Trade Center buildings and later said that the idea of a hijacked plane hitting the Pentagon was “preposterous.” He plans to discuss these beliefs over one week of the 15-week course for undergraduate students. …

School officials say they have no reason to oust Barrett because free speech protects academic freedom.

“We cannot allow political pressure from critics of unpopular ideas to inhibit the free exchange of ideas,” said Patrick Farrell, the school’s provost.  (complete article)

Thus the most preposterous idiocy is considered an “unpopular idea” if it comports with victimary thought. Once again, postmodern skepticism about truth is not across the board. 9/11 denial and Holocaust denial belong to the “free exchange of ideas” because they reinforce antisemitism and anti-Americanism. An absurdity becomes an “idea” only under such conditions; we cannot trust our “objective” judgment in such cases because we might tend to favor ourselves.

Perhaps the sheer mind-boggling stupidity of Mr. Farrell’s remarks will help persuade a few more people that White Guilt is not a coherent philosophy.

-eric gans


  1. I would not expect the stupidity of Mr. Barrett’s remarks to have such salutary effects. The victimary left has been chafing under the restrictions of the 9/11 event from the very beginning–“explaining” and “understanding” it, displacing it (have you noticed those bumperstickers with, back in ’04, the date of the election and, now, the date of Bush’s last day in office–meant to compete in sacrality with 9/11/01?) were never going to be enough–sooner or later it had to be denied outright, made “controversial,” or at least the attempt had to be made. Of course it is made first in an outrageous way by, I understand, a convert to radical Islam. But there is already an established procedure for such challenges to the “dominant narrative.” Someone will come along saying that, of course Barrett is a bit “extreme,” but he raises some questions that those in power don’t want to see raised, etc. Perhaps there’s a more complex picture in the middle somewhere. Established academics will defend, not the claim itself, but those making it, against a new “McCarthyism.” The claim will become respectable by default. Some years down the road Routledge will publish the “9/11 Reader,” which equally represents both sides, and treats it all largely as an interesting cultural symptom, like UFO kidnappings.

    Or perhaps I’m being too pessimistic. It seems to me the only alternative to the above scenario is that 9/11 becomes a genuine turning point, and hence indispensable reference point, in American history and the history of human affairs. In that case, defending the truth of the event will be equivalent to defending who we are. Otherwise, why should it matter to anyone any more than, say, the truth of the “Zimmerman memo” in World War I–and it becomes a field of free play for radical academics and conspiracy theorists (if that’s not a redundancy).

    Comment by adam — July 27, 2006 @ 5:45 am

  2. I have been astonished by the intelligent, educated people I have encountered who accept some version of 9/11 conspiracy theory. It has been no less astonishing to me that they are friendly, personable, likable people. I find myself clearing my throat, hemming and hawing, and trying to suggest, as delicately as possible, that there may be more (or in this case less) on heaven and earth . . .

    Popular Mechanics did yeoman’s work on the debunking:

    Round-up by (I think) the State Dept.:

    Comment by Matthew Taylor — July 27, 2006 @ 6:32 am

  3. Yes, what makes it acceptable is white guilt and anti-americanism. In response to Matt’s comment, individuals need to distinguish themselves, and having a conspiracy theory is one way to do so. As long as it’s PC, then it serves the purpose.

    Comment by Q — July 27, 2006 @ 2:26 pm

  4. Apparently, you can be fired for engaging in the free exchange of ideas, if you argue with Palestinian sympathizers and they get CAIR to back them up. As the linked article notes, there is a petition to defend Thomas Klocek whose organizers are particularly desirous that professors sign on.

    Comment by John — July 27, 2006 @ 3:19 pm

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