Consensus should not overpower the minority

by Paul Marino | 10/31/05 6:00am

To the Editor:

I strongly disagree with both Abraham Clayman and Professor Ronald Edsforth regarding the value of controversy, of inviting, listening to, even respecting, ideas that go harshly against the grain of consensus ("No Place at Dartmouth" and "A Multi-faith Community," Oct. 28). I recall a Dartmouth alumnus published an article against Slavery Reparations a few years ago in The Dartmouth. He tried to publish the same at Brown, but a group of students literally besieged the presses and ended its production.

Consensuses, or opinions of the majority, may vary strongly at the group or individual level. It's important that the majority, as indignant as the members may feel on any given subject, never seize the unconstitutional power to silence the minority. Moreover, in academia, we must foster respectful dialogues between even opposing parties of thought. In contrast to what Clayman says in his article, I believe people at Dartmouth, including many professors, are not so open-minded but often shoot down the ideas of others if they disagree, especially when those ideas can be dismissed as less moral, even in classroom settings. It's a kind of righteous anti-counter-revolutionism that snowballs majority opinions into extremes without rebuttal, leading to an unofficial censorship of anything controversial: terminology or core beliefs. Under these constraints, the real diversity of the community is not free to express itself, for fear of ridicule, as the community surely includes a huge range of beliefs and opinions on even controversial issues. It would require great temperance for these minds to hear each other, without the majority casting its judgment. If not, though, I don't see the value in raising diversity levels at the College, diversity of background, that is, if the ideas that accompany those backgrounds cannot be shared freely.

I work for the biology department. I would greatly enjoy it if the department were to invite a scientist who disagreed with climate change theories. If people in the department had enough humility, we could learn a lot about what range of thought on the subject exists in the science community, and why some, though they are few, disagree. However, because of the "consensus rules" attitude, such a scientist would never be received with respect, nor received at all. I may be wrong.

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