Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
Stanley Fish in Conversation with Ilan Stavans at Amherst College

Stanley Fish in Conversation with Ilan Stavans at Amherst College

it is my pleasure to welcome you all to
this a conversation tonight with Stanley fish this is part of an ongoing series
of conversations that we have been having here at Amherst College for the
last couple of years or so maybe it’s a little longer than that
ever since a dramatic presidential election woke us up to divided country
and to a divide self and to the fact that many of us we’re deaf in regards to
what was happening if not in other parts of the country certainly in other parts
of the world there was an invitation by a series of alums to engage in
conversations within the college and the college communities that is the five
colleges in other a undergraduate and graduate students the faculty in the
administration and essentially with the community at large with a larger
population on the various and opposing sides of the divide inviting us to be
able to listen to those that don’t have or share our ideas and instead of
reducing them to stereotypes or ignoring them because they they speak in ways
that we do not do the opposite and bring them in to that kind of dialogue we have
had a number of very distinguished guests throughout this two three years
from Martha Nussbaum to Bill Kristol to to Bret Stevens to a variety of
thinkers activists a scholars that continue to this day
I want to thank or my behalf and on behalf of the college the 36 members of
the 50th reunion of the class of 1970 I think I got that right
for their support particularly to two of them
that initiated this idea of listening to the other half I want to tell you that
the format of today’s event is a free-flowing conversation based on
recent book that Stanley Fish has literally just published I will say just
a few things about him and about the book in a second
but before I do that I want to thank the folks at Amherst Books that they
graciously agreed to bring copies of the book for you to hopefully buy and have a
Professor Fish sign and to the folks of Communication and to publicity and
marketing Davis in particular for all the good work that they put in order for
this to be known by the various constituencies of our community even
before the event starts Stanley Fish is controversial a figure who wears many
hats he is a legal scholar he is a literary critic a scholar of Milton who
within the university has played a variety of roles he was for a number of
years at the University of California at Berkeley he was also a at Johns
Hopkins he is distinguished professor at Florida International University right
now a named chair a distinguished professor and he is named chaired
visiting scholar at Yeshiva University in New York this semester he has also
been a columnist for The New York Times for more than a decade 18 years is
sometimes writing on a weekly basis in others in a less pressured way it is
important to remember that he within the university has played a
variety of roles because I think that’s going to come up he has not only been a
student because in order to get work to where he is you have to have gone
through being a student a teacher that is a professor but he has also been an
administrator a at the University of Illinois, Chicago a Dean
of Arts and Sciences which will probably come up in several a moment during the
our conversation in his critique of the role not only professors and members of
campus communities do but also in responses that we get
from the administration I generally believe that a the back of a book the
blurbs as we call it in publishing is really publishing mashmallow you get
friends of yours to say nice things about you but in this book The First: How
to Think About Hate Speech, Campus Speech, Religious Speech, Fake News, Post Truth
and Donald Trump The most recent by Professor Fish one of more than a
dozen there is a blurb that comes from the New Republic that I thought it would
be a good idea to start with it says the following a scholar thrillingly
authoritative authoritative wholly convinced giddy with aptitude Fish isn’t
only one fish Fish is in fact a whole school of fish Fish the lawyer and Dean
Fish the columnist and cultural critic Fish of the right and Fish of the left
Fish the philosopher and polemicist and funded Fish has written on virtually
every vital cultural issue you are not obliged to agree with him and you are
not obliged to like him but if you care about the enlarging necessity of contest
in cultural discourse then you are obliged to read him
if I want to start Stanley… Let me just rest in that for a moment. You don’t get that every day. That school of fish sounded
like dr. Seuss talking about it talking about professor
that they did the public intellectual I want to start way being you being this
public intellectual but also a positioned in the Academy as you are
with a recent op-ed piece that you published in The Wall Street Journal
maybe not month ago two weeks ago in which you talk about being invited and
then disinvited from Seton Hall and you say that you were that you were not
censored in the gist of it him we have invited you and not yet this invited you
here so I’d like to start with this sense of a what does it mean to be
disinvited and why isn’t that censorship well I was disinvited I was called by a
faculty member also an administrator who told me that the Seton Hall University
was about to inaugurate a new president and that it’s part of the ceremonies
they wanted a series of lectures mocking the occasion and I was being invited to
give the first one and I said fine but it depends on the date and whether or
not my schedule can accommodate it this gentleman told me that he would get back
to me in two weeks or three weeks with a couple of dates but and he did but not
to give me dates but to tell me that the invitation had been withdrawn
mm-hmm I asked why and he said that a committee which did not meet in person
but communicated its members communicated with one another via email
had decided that mine were not ideas that the Seton Hall community should be
subjected to and so we had a brief conversation he was
extremely embarrassed interestingly enough he insisted that the invitation
that he had issued to me over the telephone had been authorized by the
Provost and that she had in this case decided that this particular battle was
not one she wanted to take on which as an administrator as an administrator I
fully understand a decision like that one you know I’m going to save my energy
for whatever it is that I believe is crucial to Seton Hall University either
having Stanley fish here or not having Stanley fish here it’s not crucial to
Seton Hall University and I think that’s absolutely right she subsequently
apologized and I met with it last week and I was given an entirely different
version of the story and I don’t want to make a judgment between the two versions
I’ll leave them with you she told me that it was an instance of signals being
crossed that the person who called me was not supposed to have made the
invitation but was supposed to have done something else I don’t know what that
something else might have been because in the Academy someone doesn’t call you
up to say we’re thinking of inviting you if we did in fact invite you would you
accept doesn’t work that way and and I didn’t ask her at this lunch because it
wasn’t the appropriate context in which to posed the question well if there were
signals crossed what preventing what prevented you from
issuing the invitation anyway so that’s the entire story an apology that wasn’t
an apology but an apology that passed the buck to someone whose signals had
been crossed there there it is now the ideas that Seton Hall didn’t want to
hear at least according to what I was told when the shamefaced gentleman
called me to disinvite me the ideas were the ideas
that I’ve been retailing for many years which could be summed up as the idea for
example that while social justice is surely a good thing it’s not an academic
good thing and that no academic activity should be in any way concerned with or
associated with issues of social justice now that’s an that’s a position that a
lot of people would disagree with and presumably someone on that committee
disagreed with that position strongly at least that’s the only reading I have now
why wasn’t I censored I wasn’t censored because first of all I had no right to
be invited to Seton Hall that is I didn’t have the right to be invited and
I had no right not to be invited it was just the administrative decision made on
both ends as far as I can tell rather clumsily by the administrators
which is no surprise to me at all since academic administrators are in
general a a clumsy lot and I say that of course very much aware that I was one my
one myself so that’s the context in which I don’t think I was censored or
anything like that now everything depends on the reason for which the
invitation was withdrawn was it withdrawn because I had it had
been discovered that I had a criminal past let me assure you that I don’t have
a criminal past No so it was read it was withdrawn I said in the op-ed for
reasons that were non intellectual and therefore non education and that’s the
and and that’s the objection that I have to the entire experience it turns out
that in the same week that this happened to me and you may have read about this
some students at Williams College I’m not sure how many of them
sent a letter to the William College community in which they pledged to
boycott all courses in the English department that were not centered on
race and I took that to be an action parallel in many ways to the action that
Seton Hall had taken with respect to me why because the decision as to what
course or courses to take or to support was again being made on non-educational
non-academic and frankly political grounds it turns out so happens that the
last course I taught in the liberal arts arena was of course called major poets
of the 17th century and the poets I taught were John Milton John Donne Ben
Jonson George Herbert and Andrew Marvell not I think a list that could be quarrel
with an association with the term major and of course there are issues of race
that turn up in the works of those poets as some of you will no doubt know Ben
Jonson wrote a mask that is a quart production called the mask of blackness
in which Queen Anne and 11 of her handmaidens appeared in blackface Milton
in one of his prose tracks just said that Asian and Semitic peoples were
particularly prone to being slaves and in a poem called anagram John Donne
writing a parody of the usual celebration of the lady’s virtues and
beauties described his mistress as having a complexion that made Moore’s
look white so there’s that stuff but that’s about it you know if I were going
to teach a course on those poets I might name those things
but if I were to focus on those things and tease them out into the content of
the course I would be abdicating my pedagogical responsibilities because
that’s not what most of the poems written by these poets are about what
you should do I said in this op-ed is teach the material and not in fact tale
of the material according to some political or social pressure that is now
being exerted so I wanna I want to continue on or pursue the idea of the
the current generation of students that is activists and has a vision of what
should and shouldn’t be taught and in there’s a there and ask you to summarize
some of the views that you have and you expressed in the book about
microaggressions about the trigger warnings and so on
I myself a joint you in some of these views there is no way one can teach the
Bible or Shakespeare without including all the aggression the violence the
blood that goes in it you believe however that a alerting students to what
is about to come is a color linked to them and it’s not what we should do on
campuses though I don’t think it cuddles them that’s the argument of Jonathan
hate and Greg lukianov in in their book they don’t think students should be
coddled and therefore they’re against trigger warnings and such things I have
no interest in students being coddled or not being coddled in fact in a very
strong sense I have no interest in students that is what I mean by that is
I want to give students the experience of a course that introduces them to
materials they were previously unfamiliar with or not as familiar with
it’s perhaps they might be at the end of the course
it’s maximum maximum form I want to teach you a course such that the
students who take it could if they decided to turn around next week and
teach it that’s my goal now what the sensibilities of my students are what
they are feeling what their inner lives are like how many grandmothers have died
during the semester there’s the three grandmother rule that you know that you
you tell your students only three grandmother’s deaths per semester as an
excuse I couldn’t care less about that I’m only interested in putting these
materials on the table whether I’m teaching poetry or more often these more
often these days teaching cases and of course on let’s say the two
I teach most often are jurisprudence and religion and the law so I’m interested
in in in putting these materials before the students and joining with them
in an attempt to analyze what’s going on and atomize the structure the history
the tradition do some comparative work how is this done in other precincts and
other countries and stuff like that that’s what I do in class that’s what I
assume everyone does in class that’s the only thing you should do in class now
occasionally it might be the case as it was this semester that something occurs
to you and you say it I was teaching a course called law at the movies this
semester and one of the movies I showed and then we discussed was the movie the
People vs Larry Flynt which is about pornography and about a famous Supreme
Court case a hustler versus Falwell which I happen to believe was
incorrectly decided but that’s a whole other set of questions but I told the
students before they saw the movie that this is not only a movie about
pornography it’s a pornographic movie and I thought
you know they should know that but that’s about it so that would be the
limit I suppose of my activity in the way of issuing
trigger warnings behind all of this is a more basic point do students have rights
the answer to that question is a flat no students don’t have any rights they
certainly don’t have a right to participate in their own education they
certainly don’t have a right to choose or monitor the materials being offered
and of course now of course there are some instructors who in fact do give
students that right I am NOT one of them and I look with I look askance at those
instructors who do but that’s the instructors prerogative students have
one right that I will be willing to stand by and that’s the right to
competent instruction and by competent instruction
I mean first instruction given to you by someone who is aware of the present
status of the field or discipline whatever it is who comes to class
prepared who creates a syllabus and a series of readings that in sequence
illustrate and lead to the exploration of the large issues that of the content
of this subject matter whatever it is if you’re not getting that as a student and
in fact if you’re getting rather some in structure some instructor who comes in
and tells you what his or her political views are or anything in that direction
and you’re not getting competent instruction because you’re no longer
being instructed by professional academic you are instructed by a
political agent which you never want to experience do you include political
views in your classes of course political views any view can be brought
into the classroom so long as it is interrogated in an academic way
including yours and well I don’t bring my views into the classroom in
in a direct way except I did in fact tell my students that I thought that the
hustle of case was wrongly decided but I invited a good friend of mine from NYU
who is who in fact had a role in the movie and it’s a noted First Amendment
scholar and who has views directly opposed to mine and so we had a good
time and then can I ask you I’m going to pursue that that the topic of rights on
campus and outside a but before I go there could you offer us a diagnosis or
an explanation sadly of why the current generation of students has they the
values that it does in it presents and fights for those values in its own way
how has in in how many years have you been teaching 56 have has 57 one of
those incredible numbers this students body changed in that incredible number
of years well what’s happened is that the student body at least some of them
not all of them some students have stepped into the role that was always
there but was usually occupied in past generations by the church by donors to
the University by parents by legislators and that rose the role of attempting to
take over the university or the university space and make it reflect
their values and concerns the Academy has been fighting back against such
attempts at hostile takeovers for a very long time it is the reason for example
that the American Association of University Professors was formed in the
first two decades of the 20th century but now the subversive what I would
think of as subversive forces the forces that would turn the Academy away from
its it’s its special assignment and instead
make it the vehicle of what I would say is something alien what’s that special
assignment the special assignments very simple abstract it’s to advance
knowledge in the social sciences humanities physical sciences
mathematical sciences Computer Sciences that and therefore to attempt to sift
through the alternative and competing views of what is correct and true in
those disciplines and discuss and analyze the arguments pro and con that
are being put forward that’s what we do in the Academy what we don’t do in the
Academy at least what we don’t do in my Academy well we don’t do in my Academy
is move toward the kind of conclusion that then leads to action in the real
world for me the Academy is that place where
you turn things over in a deliberative manner and stop short of the waters of
action that doesn’t mean that what you give students are introduced students do
might not lead them later on once the door is closed the last class has
concluded to take very specific actions but you can’t design that the only thing
you can as a constructed design can design is of course that delivers the
pedagogical goods and the pedagogical goods are as I describe them you
introduce the students to the life of a deliberative turning over of a number of
issues you equip them with analytical skills and you invite them to exercise
those skills in daily conversations in class and in projects that hand it in at
the end of the course what do you do with a student’s daily as a as of today
in a class that shows that Polly Cobin in the need to push the professor
in a much more ideologically engaged way which is often the case
what do you be surprised if I tell you that no student in my class ever does
any such thing because you’re not surprised all right there are many you
know everyone teaches differently and there are many there are many ways of
teaching can that can be differently if effective and to some extent they are
functions of temperament and personality my method is very simple I scare
students to death as soon as possible while letting them know that while doing
it I am a figure of fun myself now the wonderful thing about this is even when
I let them know that I am aware of how ridiculous my posture is when i bark
orders at them it works anyway that’s the whole wonderful thing about rhetoric
as you those of you who remember choices partners tale may recall rhetoric can
work even and in fact often when those upon whom it is being worked are aware
of it so that’s the way I teach so very early on my students know what not what
kinds of questions are not going to be posed here and what kinds of questions
will be considered you will have the benefit of old age he might but if I
might put it that way but somebody who is a 40 or 45 teaching today may be
either not yet tenured or on the road to tenure ship yeah it might not have the
benefit of the white hair saying whatever he wants in not fearing the
risk of the reaction well I started teaching I got my PhD early at the age
of 23 and I was the same exact teacher then as I am now
and since I was teaching graduate students from the beginning I was
fortunate enough to have that experience many of the students that I would
teaching were older than I didn’t make any difference didn’t make any
difference at all but I don’t recommend this method to others so let’s take the
hypothetical of us of a teacher who is not me which we may perhaps thank God on
many let’s take someone who is more shall we say amiable in his in his self
presentation and less insistent in in in in the in the pedagogical method and
then someone asks a question which is in fact not a question that is either to
the point or in fact it’s to any academic point at all
at this moment perhaps and only at this moment the phrase teachable moment which
I utterly despise come comes to mind you can take advantage of that I mean if you
can do it artfully and you can say well you know that’s an interesting question
and it’s an urging question that is the questions that students ask that don’t
belong in the classroom nevertheless can be and often are urgent questions so you
say look that’s an urgent question in some ways our society needs to take it
up and attempt to answer it but let me try to explain to you why that’s not
going to happen here and why it shouldn’t happen here and then have that
discussion at which point a student will say as a student did say today when I
spoke in professor Daniel Gordon’s class Daniel was a professor of history at
UMass Amherst as many of you will know and a student raised the question
actually the question that you raised well aren’t aren’t there many
politically charged topics that come up in classes and are you going to be
in the mall to which my answer of course is I’m not going to be in any of them
I’m just going to insist that you interrogate them in an academic way so
that conversation can occur and the point can be made
perhaps in a more useful way than the brutal way that I usually employ can you
tell me about teacher not a professor tell me a teacher that you had in your
early years that is utterly unlike you but had a deep influence in the way you
think ah that’s a hard one because to my knowledge I’m sure this is finally not
true but I don’t know the truth is I’ve not been a disciple of anyone on the
other hand I do remember two teachers very well one was my high school teacher
in the in English by the name of a woman by the name of Sarah Flanagan who was
rigorous and no-nonsense and was the first person who said to me when I
handed in something she said to me something like well you you were pretty
good at this and I’d never heard that from anyone before and when you’re 15 or
16 or 17 years old and everyone who comes to your house that is friends of
your parents are saying and what are you going to be and what are you going to do
and you haven’t thought of anything to be and the possibility suddenly occurs
to me that you might in the end be nothing at all so that when this when
Sarah Flanagan told me you do this and you can do it fairly well I latched on
to it and never let go the other teacher that I’ll mention briefly was professor
at the University of Pennsylvania and by the name of more recent Johnson a an
18th century scholar whose bearing and urbanity and wit and satorious style I
was so taken by that I wanted to imitate him I have never succeeded
you said that students have no rights right on campus do faculty have any
rights I want to talk about the section in your book where you reflect on a
number of important recent cases of faculty members having made statements
that reached out which within the campus but outside of the campus walls and
reverberating in society in a variety of ways resulting sometimes in the
dismissal of a particular professor a or in and I want to get you’d also to that
the rights of administrators or in administrators who would say I defend
the right of this or that a faculty member who said something that I the
administrator find disgusting and in Europe view the fact that that
administrator added that second line is in itself disgusting absolutely that is
absolutely to put it simply you don’t first defend the right of your faculty
member to say something and then turn around and condemn what he said by what
I call the administrative two-step that is first yes he has or she has the right
to say it but believe me I’m on the right side I’m
a virtuous person I’m going to condemn it just as the world must condemn it
that is really weaselly behavior and many administrators unfortunately engage
in that behavior and partly they engage in that behavior because administrators
by and large don’t know what business they’re in for example a lot of
administrators believe that they’re in the free-speech business and as I say in
the title of my campus chapter in this book free speech is not an academic
value but since many administrators don’t understand it when a free speech
challenge comes that way they get paralyzed and after being paralyzed they
go to their office of legal counsel which is populated by persons who have
only one thing in mind avoid lawsuits so they get very bad
advice from the office of legal counsel huh but if they only understood what
their job is which is to ensure the health and growth of the academic
enterprise they wouldn’t take what I call the free speech bait and they
wouldn’t say things like well we must allow him to say what he said as a
private citizen but I want you to know that we condemn it because when you say
when you’re a a Dean or a Provost or a Chancellor and you condemn someone’s
point of view even as you acknowledge that you have no capacity to dismiss him
or her you are positioning yourself politically and because you keep I an
recognisable office you are positioning the university politically the
university should never be positioned politically because once it is a it’s
not any longer doing its job and be it makes itself vulnerable to all of those
constituencies that always want to assault the university so you said that
day you couldn’t care less about the politics of students a could you care
more about the politics of professors should professors within the
institutions have political views that are expressed outside of the classroom
and even as you do I see a two-phase here on your site if I might use that
aspect you don’t get into the political side but you write op-ed pieces
constantly in The New York Times and they in The Wall Street Journal that
might put a shiva university or a florida international into uncomfortable
position because of something professor fish said should a professor have be
encouraged to become a much more public figure in to what extent that position
compromises his or her freedom as an individual are we professors a private
citizens on campus or are we members of that academic community exclusively
concerned with the production manufacturing packaging of knowledge
well a book I wrote in 2008 the title of it kind of answers of that question and
the title of that book was save the world on your own time save the world on
your own time by which I meant it’s perfectly all right for you as an
academic to write op-ed so letters to the editor or chair committee which is
pursuing some controversial policy so long as you don’t do it on the
university’s dime so long as while you’re acting in the university you are
performing activities that you are both trained and paid to perform both those
words are very important trained and paid so to answer your question directly
I don’t think there should be any consequences visited by a university on
a professor who on his or her own time as a private citizen gets to say
something in print that gathers or provokes a great deal of attention some
of which may be reflected back in a negative way on the university again
that’s why the what I call the administrative two-step a moment ago is
performed because universities are aware of the extent to which they are shall we
say vulnerable to shifts in public opinion and they wish quite
understandably to push that vulnerability or to minimize that
vulnerability rather as much as possible so that while I understand
administrators who quickly condemned the speech whose protection they have just
announced I I believe that it’s a very bad thing for them to do but of course
I’ve already said that there’s a case that came up some of you may have seen
it last week the University of Indiana a faculty member by the name of Eric Matt
Rasmussen who’s I think in the business school and perhaps also in the
department of political economy has a private server in which he says
things like african-american students shouldn’t even apply to first tier
institutions because they don’t have the capacity to do the work required there
he says he asks a question rhetorically in an essay he wrote are women ruining
the academy and he gives the answer in the title probably he has another
another a piece in which he explains that all males all geniuses are males or
almost all geniuses are males and he says all these kinds of things and of
course what happens it gets publicized by someone perhaps by him as far as I
don’t really know the backstory and there’s a demand that he be fired and
there’s a demand that he be fired now the Provost at Bloomington Indiana
Bloomington performed a perfect version of the administrative two-step she said
again we spoke as a private citizen and therefore we as the university cannot
prohibit or sense of his his his words , vile and stupid as they are listen to
that vile and stupid as they are she should have been fired at least he would
have if I had the power to do so in in the next moment now as long as the
Rasmussen is not structuring his teaching according to his strong
political ideological views there’s no reason at all academically to move
against him and how and who who decides that who can monitor that should
somebody come in and legislate on how that syllabus is built on what is what
the content is while most universities have as you know colleges and
universities have processes through which teaching is assessed for example
student evaluations but I should add that I have been bitterly opposed to
student evaluations since they first appeared to
me in 1965 at the University of California at Berkeley and something
then called the slate supplement I think that student evaluations are a terrible
thing because they’re terrible thing because there’s so many reasons most of
most of the people who fill them out do so
out of for negative reasons reasons of bitterness disappointment and hostility
the the idea that someone who has taken a course in one semester
is therefore competent to judge the performance of a teacher that is in many
cases the performance of the teacher that is the course that you have taken
will only be realized in your imagination years later there’s nothing
good to be said about teaching evaluations nothing good to be said but
they’re they’re there and I you know my my ranting against them one stuff isn’t
going to remove them so they’re there and in all the cases I write about in
the book the amy wax case at the University of Pennsylvania the Steven
salaita case at the University of Illinois at Urbana the James Tracy case
at Florida Atlantic University all of these people said things and took
positions which made most of their colleagues and a good percentage of the
student body furious but on the other hand all of the teaching evaluations for
these three people were support we’re superb and showed that they you know
that courses they their courses were not soap boxes made into soap boxes for
their political views that they they studied the material that they fairly
graded assignments that were reasonable and so forth and so on so on the other
hand if it’s if it can be demonstrated that a teacher is using his or her
classroom for the purpose of furthering personal ideological partisan or even
moral views then there’s a reason to move against that person I want to in
the interest of time I want to move out of campus and into
social media a where I assume we’re going to get into even more intense a
ideas from you and you write about them in your book
there is this the Mark Zuckerberg has they testified before Congress many
times many times and he has suggested that there will be there will come a
time when artificial intelligence will be sophisticated enough to stop hate
speech in on Facebook but until then he in no one in his company will legislate
what should or shouldn’t be posted on the other hand you have Twitter which
has moved forward in deciding what should or should not be posted
particularly on this election I can do this
on this election given the record that we have of the 2016 meddling of foreign
governments and the nasty voices that some candidates a who eventually became
presidents have a been a have been expressing so I I’m not on nostalgia I
think of a time when social media wasn’t there when I arrived to Amherst in 1993
email was barely starting there wasn’t anything like what we have today and
there were lines outside their office for students to be able to see you and
talk et cetera instead of sending your text yet 12
o’clock right right so I I’m interested in particular about your vision of how
social media is excessive offers maybe too much information do we have and you
mentioned something in the book instead of having censorship by the absence of
material you have censorship by the overabundance of material I remember if
I can just stop you there I remember I’m an immigrant from Mexico and I remember
arriving to the United States in the late in the mid-80s in thinking how
incredible it was the amount of cereal boxes that I could find on a supermarket
it was an embarrassment of riches and I chose one a which one Raisin Bran and I
have gone with France instead they’ve gone with Grape Nuts the oldest to say
that I love the possibility of the possibilities that that supermarket
offered to me but eventually I went back to the very simple so I I want to I want
you to delve into the time in which we leave where censorship is actually a
reversal an abundance that can paralyze you and even nullify us well I must say
that I am a nostalgia I long for the days when there were three television
networks and other other other what antediluvian features of life but the
question you poses is a serious one and all of the questions that you impose of
course are serious ones the answer requires me to identify a what shall we
call it a a repeated mantra or affirmation that often accompanies
celebrations of freedom of speech and that is that the more speech the better
the more speech the better in First Amendment lore as some of you will know
this view the more speech the better is famously represented by two statements
made by Justice Brandeis the first statement is that sunshine is the best
of disinfectants by which he means that if bad ideas or pernicious ideas
dangerous ideas are let out into the world and into the light of day day
light will show us what they are and they
wither away and die and as I said I say in my book
the only counter-argument to that is all of recorded history because exactly the
reverse happens all the time which isn’t necessarily an argument for
censorship but it certainly is an argument against what I think of as the
totally unfounded optimism of a statement like sunshine is the best of
these defectors the other statement is very much the same of brand Isis he says
the remedy for bad speech is more speech not enforced silence which is I suppose
an optimistic version of Gresham’s law but that doesn’t work either the
internet has in effect given us a technological realization of the
marketplace of ideas the marketplace of ideas which is one of the phrases that
always have companies celebrations of the first amendment was introduced in
the 1920s in a dissenting opinion by Oliver Wendell Holmes and it imagines
and I think this is this is relevant it imagines the life of decision making as
taking place in a setting like a New England town meeting where there are a
bunch of people all of whom you have known for most of your life who is
sitting around trying to decide whether or not the municipality can afford a new
sewer system that’s the model that’s the model underlying most celebrate most
ACLU type celebrations of of the First Amendment but when the marketplace of
ideas becomes populated by billions and trillions of ideas without any mechanism
at all for assessing them or judging them then we don’t have that kind of
town hall Town Meeting rather the scenario we have something much more
insidious the the villain hero that may be too
strong a word which is why I was searching for another but I didn’t find
it the villain here is the idea of transparency one of the worst ideas in
the history of the world transparency anyone who’s ever been
married knows that the last thing you want to be is trans you won’t last two
weeks okay so transparency is a bad idea what transparency what transparency
advocates and Zuckerberg is one and Jack Dorsey used to be one and several of the
other CEOs used to be the transparency is the people are beginning to see that
transparency isn’t all that it was cracked up to be
but one of the polemics that comes along with transparency is that if in fact we
can remove from our interactions with data gatekeepers and filtering
mechanisms that are provided by experts and or long-established institutions we
will come closer to knowing the truth because the data then will come to us
unencumbered by any process of selectivity performed by so-called
experts okay I sometimes call this the romance of the
data and us you know kind of moving out into the sunset just us in the debt but
here’s what really happens if in fact you remove gatekeeping mechanisms if you
no longer are interested in regulating the flow of data or the flow of speeches
it might be which are two concepts that often but belong together and you remove
all of the gatekeepers what you will have especially in the Internet era is
millions indeed billions of pieces of data unrelated each of which is
unrelated to anything and each of which is making its claim to be
absolutely true and relevant because once you get rid of all the regulating
and selecting and the gatekeeping and the filtering you have a world in which
information just lies around billions of pieces of it like pieces of Lego waiting
for some troll or predator to arrange some of it in a narrative that can do
some form of insidious work and we know that that’s exactly what’s happening so
we don’t want transparency because this is what it leads to and you don’t want
the mantra of the more speech the better now pursuing us into the Internet era it
simply isn’t true the more speech the better it’s as we say false I want to
pursue that thought but I want I want to bring an image here that might be useful
I teach course on on on selfies in the white selfies you know you do I do they
like they and they let you they let you good indeed and I I ask the students you
know there’s a you know a proliferation of selfies if the connection between the
selfie and the self-portrait have you taken a selfie I’ve taken many selfies
never took on alright so yes absolutely I ask the students if if this if their
generation given the amount of selfies that they take is more narcissistic than
the generations that have come before and one student answered it’s not that
we are more narcissistic but we have the means to express that narcissism thanks
to technology in ways that the previous generations did not have the question
that I have for you has to do with the termometer of hate so to speak is there
more hate in the world because of the channels we’re talking about hate speech
a one of the topics of book is there more hate in the world
because of the channels to express it it be that social media I know it’s
varieties or a it is always it has always been a constant one of the things
that you always say in your book is that fake news and we’ll get there in a
second fake news there’s nothing new about it it has been fake news have been
fake news for a long time so the amount of hate speech has been constant a
throughout history but we’re now capable of a registering edge to monitoring it
may be without the sensors or the authorities that you’re talking about is
that the case it’s no longer localized I would agree that you know hate speech
and hate the version that we all feel in a variety of ways toward the other
that’s always been a feature of human life in the general battle between that
we’ve seen social philosophy these days between tribalism on the one hand and
cosmopolitanism on the other hand whatever that whatever wherever you
stand on that question and I am an myself a strong tribalist but wherever
you stand on that question you have to say that tribalism always survives and
comes back and with tribalism you always have something that you might call hate
and it can take any number of forms and has in our own history
you know Irish no Irish need not apply no Jews allowed I walked daily when I
was a kid in Rhode Island passed the Country Club not a country club a beach
club rather this is on the beach that had a policy that no no Jews were
allowed and one day I was about 13 years old I decided I would go into this Beach
Club which didn’t have on gods or anything so I went into the beach club
and wandered around and very shortly someone came over to me
said are you a member and I said yes and then he said and what’s your name I said
Harvey Goldman but but now you know you know but that was contained this was one
beach house along that along the Narragansett Rhode Island sure no one
thought very much about it you know there it was everybody knew that there
were these that there were these forms of discrimination but now as your
question suggests not only do they have more than a local habitation they have a
universal habitation but it’s apparently very easy to set up websites that
present to the waiting world or to the innocent world your forms your forms of
wait before I go to the next point why didn’t you use your name I might think
you use a French name I mean Stanley fish also sounds Jewish yeah
does it I don’t know why I just don’t I just thought well I shouldn’t tell them
Who I am so I’ll think of some other name and that was the thing that popped
into my head let’s call it a failure of the
imagination is Trump a failure of the imagination –
or a triumph oh well Trump is a triumph of a certain kind no I mean this I write
in in one of my chapters well actually Trump is a recurring
figure in almost every chapter and there’s some of Aegeus things are said
in there and I don’t say anyhow Regis things about Trump because it’s not an
anti-trump book in any way but what I do say tried to do in one of the chapters
is analyze Trump’s success as a as a political figure especially with respect
to the kind of speech he engages in this is a book about speech and what I I
came up with the term to describe and perhaps account for the success
Trump has in certain ways and with certain populations and what I just –
what I say he is perfected and when I say perfected I’m not necessarily saying
that he has done this through deliberative thought it may be instinct
it may be a combination of the two something that I call principled
irresponsibility now what is principled irresponsibility most politicians that
is almost all politicians except for President Trump I have at least a
minimal concern about reconciling what they say today with what they said
yesterday and perhaps with what they said last week or last month but he has
no interest and they are called to account on that matter
Trump is interested in only one thing and that is the moment the rhetorical
moment the moment in which he’s putting someone down or giving them a nickname
or retailing a conspiracy theory that he’s picked up from some source and then
he just uses that and gets out of that moment and then goes into the next
moment and which he might perform in ways that entirely contradict the
performance of a moment ago but has the same effect so in a way Trump is kind of
like a super Cartesian he invents the you know like the French he invents the
world not every morning but every minute the trunk world is invented every minute
now the heart that the UH the unfortunate thing for those who wish to
oppose him is that when he does this they respond by making arguments or they
respond by saying well you said X a moment ago but two days ago you said why
they haven’t yet figured out that that’s not the game he’s playing he’s and
they’re still playing the old game when you’re accountable for what you said and
you supposedly have to have an argument or a reason for having said it this has
nothing to do so so long as his opponents still are still operating on
the basis of old rules and protocols that he has left behind they will always
be behind him and by the way I see no sign that any member of the Democratic
Party or any group of Democrats has in fact fashioned a way to either conquer
to counter this because by and large they haven’t recognized it they’re gonna
lose again do you believe that Trump is not an exception in that after him
whenever that happens we go back to the prior a status quo or do you think
instead that Trump as you said it presents new rules of speech new rules
in politics that inaugurate a new way that from here forward will be the
status quo well track as many before me have said
participates and participate strongly in something that has been happening for at
least the last 50 years and that is the expansion of executive power a colleague
of mine at Cardozo law school by the name of David Rubenstein has written a
very good book called deference massive detailing of the ways in which the
judicial deference especially and also legislative deference to the executive
has in effect created what george w bush actually it wasn’t george w bush but his
his advisers were calling the unitary presidency and we now have the unitary
presidency being put forward in the current context of the impeachment
hearings also the unit Presidency was a part of Richard Nixon’s
rhetoric when he was in the course of being impeached
so chunks one of trumps lasting the effects of one of the lasting effects of
his tenure may be the pushing forward again the furthering of the the
expansion of the executive to the point where what Nixon once famously said
quote if the president doesn’t it can’t be a crime unquote may be in fact
realized the problem is that every person who occupies that office believes
in the unitary executive even when perhaps his or her outward demeanour
doesn’t suggest it Obama believes in it he really did and and acted in
accordance oh the only thing that’s going to stop the emergence further
emergence of of the executive with almost unbridled power will be a
reassertion by the Congress and perhaps by the judiciary of its part in the
separation of powers bargain and if I could predict whether or not that that
was going to happen I would be making a lot more money than I am
we’re coming here to an end at least this part family and we’ll invite the
audience to ask questions there’s a microphone here to my left and to the
audience’s right I have a couple of questions before that one of them has to
do when I mentioned that there’s and a few elements that to me sound or feel
outrageous if they are less really to do with Trump in your book than with the
way you present a certain arguments a and that is the statement of your a you
have been accused and you have always insisted probably inefficiently because
you keep on being accused that you are a relativist a in that all that is
connected with post-modernism in one way or another there’s a moment in which you
talk about how Trump said that he’s was the largest crowd ever in
the history of the America and there was reporter who described this a reporter
that said well but the photographs show that that is not the case and then he
said well but this this this was information eventually went down to what
this was information given to me right but then you stopped that paragraph in
and you say well let’s let’s analyze this and probably it could be seen as
being a truth what if there were no other events or the weather was taking a
place in such a way that given this particular moment compared to others it
was the biggest crowd that seems to me totally illogical illogical logical why
a logic it seems to me that the photographs in empirical evidence show
that compared to the the Obama inauguration in previous inaugurations
not only Democrats put rip Republicans there was there were a lot of them were
more people and in fact in the Obama the weather was much colder than during the
the second inauguration was much colder than during the first and hopefully only
inauguration of Trump so I don’t maybe you can explain that oh sure but I’ll
just repeat what I said in the book which is obviously wasn’t persuasive to
you what I’m saying is that if you just if you declare that something is bigger
than something else my crowd is bigger than yours there are always a set of
presuppositions about how the question of size is being assessed and what the
reporter you referred to and what the press in general did was just point you
know a finger point there they are there they all are well I was saying that’s
possibly a relatively crude method of determining size you might want to
determine size by first factoring in what the weather was like in the various
at the moment of the various on in inaugurations oh there it might be I
forget which ones I come up with I come up with a bunch of possible alternative
measures which are kind of like Kellyanne Conway’s alternative facts
there are alternative measures within which one might then make a statement
about crowd size you can do that you can do that that is you can change the frame
of reference and make your declaration which from the point of view of one
frame of reference seemed obviously false instead seem at least possibly
true now you’ll recall in that paragraph and then just after I finish in the
middle it’ll exercise I say now don’t get mad at me I’m not because I’m not
making these arguments I was like a rhetorical approach well of course I’m
not making these arguments I’m just imagining how they possibly could be
made now this gets back to the questions to the question finally no fake news if
alternative facts can be manufactured or can be thought up would be better
because manufacture is a pejorative word if alternative facts could be thought of
alternative ways of looking at something seeing something assessing something
even counting something what is it that enables us to choose between if we can
between these alternative accounts the answer that I give in the book is we
must look to those sources of information that have throughout the
decades and perhaps centuries earned our trust one of the things that has
happened as you know in the last 20 30 years has been and this is the title of
a book the death of expertise that is the debunking of university expertise
professional expertise medical expertise Simon Trump has scientific expertise now
as a that is what produces fake news not
summed intention to deceive which of course may be a part of it but the D
authorization of traditional sites that is si tes traditional sites of authority
some of you are old enough as I am although you’re none of you I think is
as old as I am to remember Walter Cronkite the CBS commentator who signed
off each night by saying and that’s the way it is and people believed him and
they believed him even in those cases when it turned out that some of the
things that he reported were in fact not accurate why did they believe him
because they believed that he and also in general the press had the aspiration
to get things right even if at times it didn’t get things
right the difference between I think news that is fake and news that you
might rely on is the difference between sources that don’t care whether or not
the facts are in are as they are reported and other sources which have
the aspiration to to in fact report on what is actually the case you are you
advocating or you believe is the only that we can go back to a time when there
is one anchor in one channel that delivers the news given the fractures
compartmentalized multi-layered polyphonic society in which we live very
well put I don’t know whether it could happen and it didn’t wouldn’t have to be
one you could just be the industry if the industry in general were regarded as
the kind of engage in the kind of activity that you could trust again not
that you could trust it’s every product but you could trust the spirit in which
the product was produced that I think we need to regain because as many
philosophers have pointed out without a without a
general trust underlying operations every one of us is at sea when it comes
to what we believe of what we take to be true and false
so to my view whether or not this is possible and you suggest that it may not
be the universities must regain and to some extent retain their reputation for
being places where the truth about matters and the physical sciences
humanities and physical sciences are are in fact sought and sometimes found and
of course universities that have allowed themselves to be politicized this goes
back to an earlier point we’ll never have that trust whatsoever but I think
the trust can be regained and I think that at a certain point although this is
a prediction without information that is I couldn’t support it if you ask me to
the experts will strike back this is time to a have members of the audience a
ask questions if anybody’s interested again their microphone is to my left if
you Richard if you want to come here I want to ask you as the Richard is making
his way in front of everybody him if there is if you if you could say
that that was my last question to you Stanley that a free speech is more at
peril and that maybe has already been undermined by the way your argument is
built in this book in an age of fake news and alternative facts where that a
teenager in an Ohio a basement can make a statement that takes as much bola de T
a scholar coming out from any university because it is presented in that
marketplace of ideas a that is the Internet are we to be worried about the
state of free of the freedom of speech today when compared to the civil rights
era the the the civil war period and so on well I might call with the Assumption
behind your question my argument in this book it’s that free speech is the source
of our problems or at least of some of our problems and it’s not this thing
that we should protect first of all as I argue here free speech is not a distinct
philosophical thing it’s a doctrine made up of a bunch of rhetorics that figure
and operate differently in different contexts as I said many many years ago
and another title of another book there’s no such thing as free speech
there are free speech platitudes free speech slogans which do rhetorical and
political work the over evaluation of free speech given to us by the American
Civil Liberties Union and others is I think responsible for the inability of
many to deal with the world in which they’re supposed eaten has arise has
arrived and there is more and more speech and then it turns out that more
and more speech more the the mantra the more speech the better is in fact not
true I would hope that that would lead to a revaluation of the kind that we see
often in European countries and in Canada but not here where the value of
regulated and curtailed speech of speech that has been vetted is asserted above
the value of the non the nonentity called free speech please yes thank you
I I wanted to address the question of the classroom and the question of
politics in the class I’m not sure the ideal of a sort of
non-political teacher is really possible or desirable so far I am one
so I’m possible I may not be desired I mean I mean in the sense of universally
the case I mean for example I can understand someone teaching a course on
general relativity and having strong political views that have nothing to do
with the what’s being taught in the class but suppose I’m gonna stage me of
course on the French and Russian Revolution then one might want it might
be desirable for the teacher to express the political position and for the
students when I read books on those subject I want to know what political
position they’re coming from and even in the case of the Natural Sciences I mean
one of the examples I can cite is the question of the Big Bang Theory I mean
one of the people were founded it was a Jesuit priest and a lot of the
discussion which was eventually settled on empirical grounds was also formulated
by the sense that it possibly suggested a theistic creation narrative right so
my question is why wouldn’t you necessarily want a teacher who said I’m
going to teach the subject particularly in say history or philosophy or maybe
even economics and this is my point of view on it and you can reject it or not
but that’s my point of view I really dislike that position that is it’s the
position in which you think you have insulated the class from politics of a
certain kind by being upfront and honest about your politics and what you’ve
really done when you do this is in fact legitimate the introduction of political
perspectives in the classroom but isn’t now it is not inevitable it’s inevitable
that political issues will be attached to the material that you study but those
political issues can be discussed in academic ways and in my earlier book
saved the world on your own time I invented a very ugly word for how to do
this and what you do with any topic that comes into your classroom
political or not is academic and why academic side that I mean detach the
topic from the real from its real-world urgency where there’s a policy to be
decided upon and an action to be taken and instead reinsert the topic into what
we might think of as academic urgency well what you want to do is describe
analyze compare historicize and all of those things that we customarily do in
in in our classrooms so again no topic should not should be introductive
there’s no topic that cannot be brought into the classroom so long as it is
regarded as the object of analysis and not as the object of either possible
embrace or rejection that’s the distinction that’s the distinction and
it’s easy it’s absolutely easy I teach political texts all the time in in
courses on a political theory and of course political issues turn up and in
Supreme Court case in every Supreme Court case that you that you can imagine
but when I teach these materials and also in poetry political issues are
always turning up in in in in in in the work of poets both major and minor but
you can study them as opposed to in as opposed to using them as an occasion for
making a decision about what to do in the world as an administrator how would
you deal with a professor who was otherwise competent but did introduce
his or her political views fire him were you fired at any point ah no because you didn’t mix the text in there
because I also scared administrators to death yes I I’ve recently been badly
injured so it’s hard for me sometimes to turn around but Here I am I’m especially
interested in your thoughts on trigger warnings I kind of a application of how
an institution like universities involved with questions of free speech
and and the instance you mentioned of showing a movie about pornography which
in fact was a pornographic film I’m wondering what your thought was behind
offering a trigger warning so to speak then and if you could give an example of
a situation when you would not provide a trigger warning in what differentially
that’s the only situation in which I provided something that might be called
a trigger warning and I didn’t do it with the sense that I was providing a
trigger warning in in in my class law and the movies I handed out I hand out
15 to 25 questions that the students are to use as a guide when they watch the
movie and think about it and then each student has to pick one of the questions
and write a brief of one page one and a half page paper every week the first
question that I put on my on the question sheet for the People vs Larry
Flynt is Latin the People vs Larry Flynt is not only a movie about pornography it
is it is itself pornographic and then I said is this something for which we cook
should criticize the director or can you think of ways of defending the directors
choice to to to produce his film in this way so there wasn’t effective trigger
warning but it was in the course of my pointing out something to the students
which I then wanted them to think about and write about the trigger warning
insofar as it was one was not issued by me with a sense of the
with the sense of the possible vulnerability of some of my students to
pornographic images someone reported just this Tuesday when I had my final
class apparently she didn’t remember the questions because she sat down at
Thanksgiving dinner with her family to watch the People vs Larry Flynt that
wasn’t a good idea and I wasn’t you know wasn’t a good idea because that’s not
the kind of thing you do at a Thanksgiving dinner but you want look in
general all of these slogans trigger warnings safe spaces no platforming
cultural appropriation microaggressions they’re all versions of the same demand
which is the demand that we not learn anything you know we don’t want we don’t
want to learn anything there’s something more complicated like about the cultural
appropriation argument cultural appropriation is a form of racism and we
could get into that but it would take a little bit so I have no sympathy as you
can tell whatsoever for any of these notions microaggressions sure I’m sure
that I have my core guests aggressed against a significant number of persons
in this audience because of some things that I have said in the manner in which
I’ve said them at which point I’m attempted to you know cite or quote the
title of an old Eagle song get over it so that’s you know you’ve governed a
class you take your lumps whatever they are I will say there was one point in my
teaching career this is long before any of this occurred this would have been in
1984 I was teaching at Columbia and I was teaching of course on Milton and a
young lady came up to me before the course started and she said mr. fish
could I tell you about my religious convictions briefly which he did
and identified herself as a member of a certain Protestant sick and she said is
there anything that I might read in the poetry and prose of Milton that would be
antithetical to my religious convictions to which I responded just about
everything and she decided not to take the course that was a perfectly
reasonable thing for her to do but is that really a perfectly reasonable in
the end knowledge doesn’t take place well it depends on whether it depends on
the value you hold that you place on a religious faith there’s a chapter nobody
and ever I get interviewed about this book no one ever talks about the
religion chaplain and you haven’t talked about religious faith is not like other
things to those whose lives are founded in it they don’t want to lose it
let me give you a very quick examples my favorite case in law is called Mozart
versus Hawkins it was a case I think in the Fifth Circuit in Ohio and it was a
suit a cause of action brought by one of my favorite people in all of the legal
world a young mother by the name of Vicki
Smith and what Vicki was protesting was the fact that her six-year-old child was
required or seven-year-old child I forget what no no would have been in the
6-3 how old’s the older people in the sixth grade I twelve okay
twelve-year-old child was it was required to read in the court in in in
in an assigned book called the prentice hall critical reader that’s what it was
Vicki for us not Vicki Smith the prentice-hall critical reader which
contained articles on you know gender differences complain articles on
witchcraft and some people who worship wish it you know worship Satan but also
contained a lot of other things now she was told by the superintendent of
Hawkins County that the course these materials were taught but they weren’t
taught in a way that advocated any of them rather they were taught in a way
that was designed to introduce children to the idea that there were many ways of
thinking about important issues in the world and what he said to her is missus
force you have not understood the difference between indoctrination and
exposure and what she said was immortal she said the distinction between
indoctrination and exposure is an artifact of the liberalism that is so
pressing me now that’s really good that’s really good and as she pointed
out she didn’t object this is what totally flummoxed the other people who
in the legals she didn’t object to individual essays she projected to the
entire project of teaching so that her her daughter could make up her own mind
she didn’t want her daughter to make up her own mind she wanted her daughter to
remain in the faith now before you tried out the usual liberal commonplaces to
condemn her think a bit about her she was a very smart woman and she knew what
it was that she wanted for her child and she knew also that liberal assumptions
about being exposed to ideas and then developing the strength of mind to
choose between them these assumptions were her enemy
now remember that case it’s really it’s a really important case religion is not
like anything else go ahead okay so I’m gonna preface this question by saying I
often when I’m reading you the first time through I either don’t understand
the argument or I think it’s got to be wrong and I reread I reread and
eventually have an aha moment pieces fall together oftentimes it’s actually
students who help me see it I’m hoping that will happen again
so you recently I think you were talking about I think you were making an
argument that decisions by universities are College with respect to their
investments yeah are not moral that they’re sort of not moral decisions they
don’t you shouldn’t be morally judging them for them given the limited nature
of the goals that a college or university has all they have to worry
about is what what would it mean to be good steward of the college yeah Broly
and down right and that struck me I didn’t understand that argument because
so let me just give you an analogy and tell me what’s wrong with it I’m a
homeowner as a homeowner I want to be a good steward of my house but that
doesn’t seem to me to let me off the hook when I’m making decisions about who
to hire like it doesn’t let me off the hook what if I decide to hire someone
who treats their employees really badly under pays them even if their works a
little bit better than someone who treats their employees really great it
seems like that is I can’t be morally indiscriminate about the means to my
ends it seems like moral judgment still has a place there and why isn’t that
also the case with colleges and universities even if it is true that
they have the goals that you say they do well I think the best answer to this was
given the worst answer I’ve seen was given by drew Faust who at this time was
the president of Harvard University and she was responding to the demands by
some students no doubt some faculty – now that the university divest itself of
fossil fuel stocks on the reasoning and the reasoning is strong and powerful on
the reasoning that fossil fuels are endangering the
the environment to the extent that they perhaps are ultimately endangering the
planet that’s a pretty big argument and not one easily dismissed or not one
dismissed at all what drew faust said in a statement is
that she was going to resist any effort to facilitate to politicize the
operations of to politicize the operations of those who oversee the
endowment she said that’s not their job their job is to
grow the endowment so that we that is Harvard which only has about 128 billion
dollars or something so that Harvard can better serve its educational mission to
me that’s absolutely right that’s absolutely right that you don’t
you don’t decide that you’re going to divest from stocks that are associated
with fossil fuels you don’t decide that you’re going to divest from stocks that
have some relationship to the State of Israel
you shouldn’t have decided to all of those years ago to divest from stocks
that in some way we’re related to South Africa remember that well that all that
that’s just wrong and it’s wrong because it’s mistaking the nature of your
enterprise right but so I’m a homeowner so I don’t care know that forget the
homeowner analogy but that’s that then you’re not helping me all right okay you
said something in your example that the person who treats his or her employees
badly still did a better job you hire that person so if someone says look you
shouldn’t have hired them they’re treating their employees really crummy I
say none of your business because my job is to be a good steward of my house
absolutely cares like wait a minute looks like that’s that’s the moral
argument my argument is the moral argument yours is not
next question so when talking about a speech on campus you introduced the idea
of the academic two step where some administrator defends the right of a
professor or a group to say something and then condemns it so let’s give the
example of like a student newspaper and a student has submitted an article that
claims that the Holocaust never occurred mm-hmm
should the newspaper publish that article if to their knowledge the
Holocaust absolutely did occur that’s a complicated question first of all it’s
this newspaper how is this newspaper is situated institutionally where does it
get its funds and so forth I guess a student newspaper gets his funds from
the college finally gets its funds from the college then according to a series
of Supreme Court decisions that of course are as all the Supreme Court
decisions are often contested but according to a series of Supreme Court
decisions the school has every right to monitor the activities of the student
reporters who work at a whole labor at the newspaper funded by the institution
I’m not sure that’s an answer to your question is it I think that there was
more to your question than my answer recognized yeah ah good we’re on the
same page there I guess it’s more about what are you
worried about why don’t we go in it this way what are you worried about what what
don’t you want to happen are you worried that the person who is denying the
Holocaust is being denied that the net denied the capacity to say what they
want to say yeah and also if like the editor of the student newspaper thinks
that this article should not be expressed do they have the right to deny
the author of the article well should not be expressed as opposed
to think it’s thinks it’s false or do you want to not make that distinction
should not be expressed as a moral judgement on what is being said we don’t
want that kind of thing said it might you know it might pollute the atmosphere
or something like that as opposed to we don’t want to publish things that are
demonstrably false the letter well if it’s we don’t want to publish things
that are demonstrably false it seems to me that the newspaper editor is on very
good grounds okay I think and so publishing the article would be
problematic if the look why would an editor let’s let’s back up a bit and and
expand on your example why would an editor who believes something to be
false publish it one answer and we can go to examples like remember the Danish
cartoons of some of some years ago Danish cartoons that is all right well
have caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed and so forth and so on which appeared in
the newspaper and what country was it Denmark where they don’t have they don’t
have anything other other things to worry about so they they obsess on this
stuff and then what happened was all over the country all over the world
newspapers decided to publish the the cartoons you know with negative
caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad did the newspaper editors who did this that
is not the original one but the ones who then follow up did they agree with the
characterization or caricature of the Prophet Muhammed absolutely not
why were they doing it they were doing it to make a point about free speech
that’s a very bad reason to do anything to make a point about free speech they
were standing up they were they were kind of doing the what I call the
administrative two-step but in a slightly different form they were
showing that they had the First Amendment guts or whatever it is that
they had so if your editor of your student newspaper knew that this was
false what was going to publish it nevertheless it’s because he had some
what shall I say glorified notion of the First Amendment and regarded the
doctrine of free speech as something like a theology and a lot of people who
are free speech polemicists that is proponents of free speech in a strong
way in fact that is their theology because most of them don’t have any
other theology so that’s the theology that they have I don’t know you’re
totally perplexed I guess if I were an editor and that thing came to me I
wouldn’t publish it would you all right so we’re in agreement perfect agreement
we are coming late and we have time for one more question thank you thank you
thank you for your question first fish I read in presser Shaw’s class a couple of
years ago your your book are not your book part of your book that you
mentioned earlier there’s no such thing as free speech and it’s a good thing to
which i think is really catchy title by the way
and I was wondering something about your view ever since I read that I’m glad to
have the opportunity to ask you are familiar with the now no longer used
practice in Roman Catholicism of the excommunication Vitton de say also don’t
talk to them or read them I know I don’t I think I may have but refresh my memory
or or inform me or both basically the church like identify
someone and says okay this person hasn’t met the grounds for communication and
we’re going to apply this extra sensor to them of also Catholics aren’t allowed
to read them or like discuss with them forbidden books pretty much and you know
one one fairly common position to hold on this is that’s bad because it limits
free speech it limits the circulation of ideas that sort of thing based on both
what I read from that book of yours as well as your example of the religious
mother earlier it doesn’t seem like that’s the position that you take and
I’m just wondering what position you do take well well first of all I’m not a
Catholic so any position that I take is limited in its I so I suppose relevance
and resonance by that fact but I but I would say that what the quote-unquote
defenders of the faith we’re doing was defending the faith a V that’s the
business they’re in see they’re not in the free-speech business which is of
course the same thing I say about universities universities are not in the
free-speech business sometimes free speech and this is true also of
religious institutions sometimes free speech concerns and values intersect
with academic concerns but that’s accidental it’s like the very thin part
of a Venn more often they they do not a weighted
said I say this in the book when I’m talking about I’m talking about in the
book in the in the religion chapter which no one reads apparently but which
I hope all of you will read I’m talking about all these cases that have come up
recently where bakers and florists and photographers wish to turn away couples
gay couples and not participate in the celebration of their marriage and then
that leads to the court cases which we’ve already had and believe me there
are more in the pipeline and they’re green in words where you have a conflict
between two irreconcilable points of view on the other hand the point of view
in which fidelity to deity into doctrine is paramount and therefore it would be
wrong from the point of view of the deeply religious photographer or Baker
to lend his or her services to an activity his or her religion considers
sinful and then on the other side you have the idea that anyone who hangs up a
shingle or opens a storefront is in fact obligated to service any customers that
come that that come seeking goods or services that I said a moment ago this
is not something that can be reconciled and this is what I meant before when I
said religion is a special thing religion is a special thing because
fidelity to what you understand to be the commands of your deity Trump’s if
you’ll pardon the use of the word trumps all other all other possible obligations
some of you may have seen the movie a man for all seasons which is the story
of st. Thomas More and which I taught earlier in the semester in a
brilliant performance by the academy award act morning actor Paul Scofield
Thomas More in this movie does his best to avoid the point where he has to
choose between fidelity to what he takes to be the will and doctrine of God on
the one hand and fidelity to the legitimately legitimately
instituted laws that Parliament has passed he wants to avoid it well finally
he can’t avoid it and as the result of which his head is cut off it’s and again
it’s not that religious persons of the kind that I’m discussing don’t value
respect for others or value the individual rights of persons no matter
what their beliefs it’s just that the religious sensibility that I am
discussing doesn’t worship them that is religious persons worship God they don’t
worship mutual respect or non-discrimination or any of those
things they worship God and you can only
understand religion if you in fact recognize that fact in fact recognize
that fact but what liberalism wants to do to religion is to turn it into just
one more discourse or to use a verb a verb that I intensely dislike they want
to pluralize it they want to make religion into just some other kind of
discourse which has a claim to our attention but not an ultimate claim to
our attention if a religion is a religion the claim it is making on our
attention is ultimate all the time I want to go back to that quote from the
New Republic it is true one doesn’t need to agree with the professor fish but it
is certainly worth listening to the provoked
they run with one’s own version of it Stanley thank you very much for coming

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