The last place to look for fearless, open, free-wheeling speech for its own sake is any university town.
See Northfield, Minnesota – home of a couple of tony private colleges – where publican Norman Butler of the pub “Contented Cow” has been doing something I wish a bar in the Twin Cities would do; hosting a series of discussions and debates over the winter.
Then things got sticky:
But when word got out that Butler invited conspiracy theorist Jim Fetzer to do a series of talks on historical events on which he holds controversial opinions, some customers revolted.
They say that Fetzer is an anti-Semite because he also denies aspects of the Holocaust. Several residents sent notes to Butler saying they would stop frequenting his pub unless he canceled the talks.
We’ve run into the whackdoodle Fetzer (and, in the comment section, his fan club) on this blog before. He hasn’t changed:
[Fetzer's] “truths” include Fetzer’s belief that the Sandy Hook school shootings never really happened, that the 9/11 attacks were a “reality fraud” by the government conspiring with Israel and that the plane crash that killed Sen. Paul Wellstone was a possible assassination.
Fetzer’s posting of critics’ e-mails apparently caused one of his readers to send a threatening e-mail to one professor.
By Monday, Fetzer had agreed to change the events from speeches to debates, inviting people with expertise to rebut him. On his website, Fetzer said the community response “has shattered any lingering illusions I may have had about Northfield as an enlightened and intellectual environment.”.
If Fetzer believes any university town is a place for intellectual inquiry, it’s no wonder he denies the Holocaust and thinks 9/11 was an inside job. He’ll buy anything.
Kudos to Mr. Butler, anyway:
As of Tuesday, Butler was not backing down on the forums.
“I almost folded this morning,” he said. “I was down on my knees almost. But I got a second wind.”
Asked if he expected the backlash, the England native channeled British comedy troupe Monty Python: “Well, I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.”
And that was that – until the professors got into the rhubarb:
One of those who oppose Fetzer’s appearance is Gordon Marino, professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College.
He called the appearance “unbelievable.”
“Is this some free speech thing?” Marino wrote to Butler. “If so, why not some pro-slavery person as well?”
OK. So why not?
I mean, it’d be a short, sharp debate, probably ending badly for the proponent – but why the hell not?
Isn’t free speech about meeting bad speech with more, better speech?
Goodness knows college kids can’t debate even easy subjects like the existence of slavery or the Holocaust these days without resorting to the left’s “debate” playbook, strawmen and ad-hominem. Having some of them see how it’s done might be a better learning experience than they’d ever get at Saint Olaf or Carlton.