Access is not agreement

John Muenzberg

Column by John Muenzberg, lecturer of philosophy

John Muenzberg

John Muenzberg

The most paradoxical theory of morality is ‘ethical relativism.’

The most general version states that an action is ethical only in relation to some standard, such as one’s society. There is no objective standard that can decide between the beliefs of different societies.

This is appealing until one considers whether this could work in reality. If my society thinks people should live and let live and your society advocates invasion and subjugation of others, then we have a problem. My commitment to a live and let live attitude would result in my death and the destruction of my way of life. At this point, I cannot accept your moral code. It has to be moral for me to defend my beliefs.

The appearance of the Traditionalist Worker’s Party (TWP) on Murray State’s campus has forced a similar reconsideration of principles. Murray State is committed to open inquiry and honest investigation. Murray State is also committed to treating students and employees equally and without bias. A place that values open inquiry into any subject should also value openness to different races, backgrounds, and ways of life.

As previously detailed in The Murray State News, the TWP is a nationalist party that advocates dividing the United States into racially segregated states. Such a position is contrary to ideals of inclusion and non-discrimination. All students, staff, faculty and alumni should be concerned.

And yet Murray State, seemingly contrary to its own interests, not only allowed them on campus, but let them rent a table in the Curris Center. President Bob Davies, responding to concern from the Murray State community, reiterated Murray State’s commitment to open examination of all ideas while expressing his personal disagreement with the beliefs of the TWP.

In an effort to protect our community, we should not destroy what our community is founded on. Investigation into the truth requires examination of a diversity of opinions. Even today, politics, religion and social tradition stymie honest exploration of ideas. Murray State opposes such control from outside forces. We should also oppose such control by ourselves.

One could argue that in prohibiting discrimination we should also prohibit groups that advocate such discrimination. But banning such “hate groups” creates a precedent that can be easily manipulated to reinforce specific biases. For example, since Murray State is a public institution perhaps we should ban speakers that argue for God’s existence. On the other hand, groups that support atheism might discriminate against students who believe in God. Fraternities and sororities segregate based on gender, so they should be banned. Better get rid of the gender studies program too, just to be safe.

It is easy to see that attempts to ban hate groups can quickly devolve into only advocating for my social, political or religious position. Such parochial interests are contrary to the ideals of open inquiry.

Banning a group from campus will not end their existence. It will not even remove them from our lives. They still exist in society, and we are part of that society.

But allowing access to campus is not the same as agreement. Acknowledging different opinions does not preclude us from opposition to those positions.

The Murray State community has the tools to counter such groups. It is through information, argumentation, personal will and political action. So many of the assumptions of the TWP are false. Provide information and arguments that demonstrate why they are wrong.

Discrimination can destroy communities. Oppose discrimination in your own life and advocate that others do the same. Organize into groups that oppose such discrimination. Through organization we can also fight the intimidation that we may feel.

These actions, not outright bans, are what will truly destroy their positions and power. Through these actions we can oppose such groups without destroying our core beliefs. And through these actions we can strengthen our community.