The price of admission to a free society is seeing and hearing things you might not like
I’m a dangerous Nazi.
That’s according to a professor at Minot State University who was supposed to moderate an event I’d been invited to speak at by Dr. Robert Kibler who chairs the Department of Foreign Languages, Humanities, and Literature there.
Kibler told me the colleague he’d chosen to moderate the event had pulled out. She said she didn’t feel safe in a room with me. That the venue, the lovely Northwest Arts Center Gallery, didn’t have enough egress points through which she could flee if I became enraged.
Ultimately organizers found another person to guide the event, and I wasn’t told about the original moderator’s fears until afterward.
Her’s were not the only objections to my participation in an on-campus event. My counterpart in the event, which was a dialogue about the future of higher education, was Dan Conn. He’s a professor of education at MSU, and told me he’d been encouraged not to speak with me. During the event itself members of the audience mentioned there had been some level of protest on campus about my inclusion.
I am gratified to report that despite the folderol, the event was a success. The discussion was both in-depth and challenging. I think most left the room surprised at how much common ground we found, and satisfied in feeling at least a bit more informed on an important topic.
I don’t want to let the petty, overwrought objections of the few cast a pall over what was a very gratifying discussion. In fact, I’d argue the event was all the more successful for overcoming these attempts to block a campus dialogue with a critic of the academy.
I understand what my reputation is. When I told the room at MSU that I know all about my reputation in the state’s higher education community as a sort of “barbarian at the gate” I got a big laugh. Besides, I get called a Nazi and worse almost daily on social media. In letters to the editor of the papers where I’m published. In emails sent to me directly.
Some of that is genuine rage. Some of it is orchestrated by political interests, lacking a convincing rebuttal to the points I make, working to undermine my credibility.
Still, it’s hard to hear that someone thinks you’re so dangerous they don’t want to be in the same room with you. What am I supposed to do with that information?
“Shut up” is the intended message, I think. I’m supposed to stop saying or writing things which are inconvenient for how some people want to see the world.
I’m not much interested in shutting up. I won’t knuckle under to cry bullies out to use their contrived tears as a cudgel with which to beat the opposition into submission.
The price of admission to a free society like ours is understanding that you’re very often going to see expression — speech, art, literature, etc. — which upsets you.
It seems, increasingly, that some aren’t interested in paying it.
Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort