September 30, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 18  

Front Page >> Editorial & Opinions > Editorial


> News
> Editorial & Opinions
> Arts & Entertainment
> Campus Life
> Sports


> Archives
> Search Archive:
> Browse By Date:

More Stuff

> Photo Gallery
> Comics
> Contests
> Links

Talk to Us

> About Us
> Submit Letter
> Volunteers
> Advertising
> Gazette Alumni Society


Emotion clouds objectivity

While Isabel and Juan have left Western alone in the past week, reactions to author and professor Norman Finkelstein's visit to Western last week delivered a cloudburst of empty, sentimentalist rhetoric

The storm of letters to The Gazette reflects the fact that too often, emotion spoils academic debate; while Finkelstein's views are critical of Israel and its policies, there is no reason why speakers like him should be feared, or worse yet, barred from campus.

Finkelstein and other "controversial" speakers in recent years (Daniel Pipes and Hussein Hamdani, for example) have had their freedom of speech questioned; while they did offend some groups, they were labelled "offensive" on the basis of emotion and not necessarily on the objective analysis of their views.

Critical thinking is the lifeblood of education; often, as a result, well-educated people argue passionately for what they believe in. The stigma against academics who deviate from the commonly held views is simply evidence that sentimentality is displacing critical thinking as the driving intellectual force.

The "us against them" emotion stirred up by the discussion of sensitive issues in a university setting is counterproductive - the purpose of the university is to discuss these issues in free academic discourse. In the case of the conflict in the Middle East, many onlookers carry a vested interest, easily the biggest obstacle in their rejection of often well-educated opinions that may go against their own.

So is emotional detachment from the issues a better option? While a viewpoint less inhibited by the tunnel vision of emotion is more likely to be objective, outsiders' views are often dismissed as incomplete, even when they epitomize academic objectivity.

Finkelstein and other academics whose views go against the grain of popular, oft-emotionalized opinions deserve their academic freedom of speech despite the complaints of the close-minded who would prefer not to hear a differing opinion at all. One is free to disagree with what a speaker has to say, but an argument rooted in academic objectivity carries more weight than a rant based purely on emotion.

As recently as March, however, faculty members at this very university sent letters trying to keep Pipes from speaking. One academic should not discourage another from expressing an educated opinion; in theory, all academics are equal.

The real losers when "controversial" speakers are barred from campus are not those who take objective analysis as slight and get drawn into purely sentimental debates about who's right or wrong, but rather those who claim no prior involvement and attend lectures like Thursday's seeking what this university is supposed to offer them: education.




Editorial & Opinions Links

© 2003 The Gazette  
BluThng Productions