A Civil Reply To Our Critics At Asterisk Magazine

For anyone who is not yet aware, The Carolina Review has recently had the honor of triggering the disgust and outrage of the writers over at another student publication, Asterisk. Last week, a writer by the name of Alex Haggis published an article titled “The Carolina Review and the Dangerous Incompetence of Campus Conservatives.” Haggis’s critique targets the Review through an examination of two articles written by me and my editor, Alec Dent. For the purposes of this article, I’m only going to address the criticism directed toward me. Haggis was exasperated by what I wrote about the foolishness of the nearly 200-day-long sit-ins protesting Silent Sam. He views campus conservatives as ignorant, incompetent, and unfeeling charlatans. I will do my best to answer his criticism here:

In my original article, I don’t actually make a case against removal. Nevertheless, I fully understand Haggis’ position. It is shared by most of the activists I’ve encountered. It goes something like this: Sam was erected during a time of the reflexive reestablishment of racial hierarchy in the South. Sam’s erection is less about commemorating UNC’s Civil War veterans and more about a revitalized civic commitment to white supremacy. This is evidenced by the speech given at the commemoration which was terribly violent and racist. By displaying Sam without some indication of its proper historical context, the University as an institution remains willfully oblivious to its complicity in an oppressive system. The idea that we don’t know or don’t care about the history of the statue is obviously offensive to African American students and faculty. The University has a responsibility to 1) protect its students’ dignity or emotional wellbeing and 2) display its commitment to egalitarian principles which are antithetical to the ideas which properly contextualize the statue.

This is genuinely as close as I can get to a steelman of Haggis’ position. I still take a number of issues with it.

Mr. Haggis

In the article, I point out the fact that protestors like Haggis have never once presented any sort of objective evidence to bolster the claim that the statue causes “harm” to students. All of the budding historians and social scientists that make up the ranks of the anti-Silent-Sam movement have never bothered to conduct a study about it. How many students do we lose every year to Silent Sam? What effect does the statue have on students’ mental wellbeing? What percentage of the student body is in favor of its removal? Its destruction? The University of North Carolina is one of the most prestigious public research universities in the country if not the world. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have some quantifiable answers to these questions.

But, for people like Haggis, raising this sort of critique is due to either ignorance or sympathy for “white supremacy.” He writes, “I am forced to wonder whether Kosnitzky is aware of this historical context, when he defends the remnants of white supremacy with a vapid statistical argument.” But my article does not propose any sort of plan in the first place- it simply points out the drought of empirical data coming from him and his fellow protestors. For the writers over at Asterisk, asking for a baseline level of information to make good policy decisions makes you a slavery apologist. It is true that I attack Haggis’s lack of evidence in his attempt to make a utilitarian case for the statue’s removal. But nowhere in the article do I attempt to assert what we actually ought to do with the ole’ boy.

All of the budding historians and social scientists that make up the ranks of the anti-Silent-Sam movement have never bothered to conduct a study about it. How many students do we lose every year to Silent Sam?

Without a shred of irony, Haggis then goes on to make the exact same sort of utilitarian argument for removal that he calls “vapid,” albeit, not very well. He shows us how “the evidence” objectively demonstrates that the statue should be removed. How exactly does he do this? By telling us that intersectional/minority student groups have said so. Haggis writes “…A look at the evidence refutes this. No student group where voices of color are prominent has ever been in favor of the statue.  The biggest of these groups (BSM, Chispa, ASA, etc.) are in ardent, vocal opposition to it.” Obviously, a statement on Facebook from “The Committee for a Queerer Carolina” does not qualify as empirical data. The “evidence” he uses to support an argument for removal is that some radically left-leaning student groups demand that we do so.

The implication seems to be that, for Haggis, opposition to removal means lack of historical awareness. This is an obvious fallacy. Haggis’ position occludes the fact that one could oppose removal simply because it constitutes a violation of the status quo. The status quo is usually worth protecting. We deviate from tradition at our peril. A commitment to the sovereignty of the status quo frees us of having to attend to historical circumstances. Future generations may look back at Sam as the valuable relic of a time and place meant to be preserved so as to be understood. Ancient Sparta was a society built entirely on the blood and sweat of slaves.  Nevertheless, we would consider it a crime to destroy some ancient Spartan artifact to display a commitment to social justice principles. One could make the argument that there aren’t any Spartan slaves around to offend. But none of the students or faculty who have been alive for the last 100 odd years have experienced oppression at the hands of civically endorsed racial hierarchy either. Furthermore, I have serious doubts about the University’s responsibility to its’ students emotional wellbeing as a matter of course. Keeping everyone comfortable and happy has never been part of the Academy’s role until recently. Generally, the preservation of custom, tradition, and the status quo has merit.

In these circumstances, there are many, many defensive arguments to be made in disagreeing with the plan while being fully aware of the historical context. There are attitudinal, legal, structural, and even logical barriers to removal. It might very well be the case that 1) it is currently illegal to remove the statue 2) the overwhelming majority of the community does not favor removal 3) it is politically impossible 4) removing the statue doesn’t ameliorate the existing harms that it attempts to solve (will removing the statue really conquer racism?) 5) the harms caused by the statue are not significant enough to warrant removal 6) there is no link between the statue being racist and actually removing it (perhaps we might need to keepthe statue because it is racist) 7) removing the statue in some way harms the University or those who don’t want it removed 8) the cost of removal outweighs the benefit in scope and impact 9) ceding to activists’ demands sets an undemocratic precedent 10) you get the point. I’m not interested in advocating for a specific position on the fate of Silent Sam. I simply find it absurd that anyone would devote 200 days to any cause that they haven’t even fully thought through. Many, many students have debated this issue. There’s nothing new about it. What interests me is that the University now encourages students to make activism an integral part of their intellectual life. When it does this, we end up with a cavalcade of protestors in front of the South Building for 200 days yelling about things they don’t even fully understand. That’s the real story. That’s the real joke.

The implication seems to be that, for Haggis, opposition to removal means lack of historical awareness. This is an obvious fallacy.

Haggis may believe that by not directly laying out a case against removal, my analysis is artificial and pseudointellectual. He is here, again, unjustified. I really don’t believe that the behavior of these protestors is in any way normal or mundane. That’s why stories like these are important. The protestors don’t have a platform of statistical or logical evidence to support their claims. They assume that a commitment to egalitarianism and social justice is the highest and only ethic in the pursuit of the community’s welfare. They attack those who question their methods as White Supremacist sympathizers, racists, or slavery apologists. This sort of behavior stinks to me of something lazy and rotten underlying the ideological presuppositions of its actors.

Clearly, Haggis missed the point of my original article. I’m happy to debate anyone on a topic related to Silent Sam. But what I’d really like to do is help our friends over at Asterisk.

Over the next two years, I will continue to be a writer here at Carolina. I will continue to expose the silliness of those who demand conformity in the name of political correctness. So, I think it would be best if we could somehow ease the agitation of our leftist counterparts going forward: We at The Carolina Review are willing to categorically endorse the removal of Silent Sam under the condition that we sell it to a private collection and use the funds to construct a giant safe space in its place for the Asterisk Mag writing staff. The safe space must include soothing ocean tunes to drown out dissenting opinions. It must also include several boxes of tissues to soak up the tears of you beautiful snowflakes. Finger-painting classes should take place between 3-5 pm. From now on, the Review will send a letter of warning ahead of each new article it puts out. This new space will give Asterisk writes the opportunity to huddle together when the articles are published, share about their feelings, and work through the trauma together.

To the writers at Asterisk: please contact the Review staff before the fall semester begins if this resolution seems equitable. We are happy to work with you, and will do our best to make you all feel safe and comfortable for the remainder of your time at Carolina.—-

Zach Kosnitzky

8 comments

  1. In my article, I talk about Silent Sam for a few paragraphs, but my main argument has nothing to do with Silent Sam. My main argument, boiled down, is that campus conservative writing has no ideas, only reactions. You provide no response to this central argument in your article, even though based on its title your article was meant to respond to this very claim. I wish your response had addressed this, for I would like to know what you think about it.

    I don’t want to nitpick here, but I want to pull one quote from your article: “none of the students or faculty who have been alive for the last 100 odd years have experienced oppression at the hands of civically endorsed racial hierarchy either.” My article included the account of a former student, alive today, who experienced Jim Crow. Do you not consider Jim Crow, which was around much more recently than 100 years, an example of a civically endorsed racial heirarchy?

    Thanks,
    Alex

    1. Alex,
      Your ideas challenge the status quo. Conservative ideas usually do not. If you wish to challenge the status quo, the burden is on you to prove your plan is good. You base your claim about conservative writers on my article reacting to SS protests. This article is a reaction to that claim. It negates your points in favor of removal. We can all just keep throwing out ideas, but without a negative position, there is no debate.

      About the second thing: I definitely will cede this point. There is no question Jim Crow was a “civically endorsed racial hierarchy.” I should have said either “But no UNC students have experienced….” or “none of the students or faculty for the last 60 years…”

      Zach

      1. Zach,

        You posit that the essence of conservatism is protecting the “status quo.” But, the list of things that conservatives in power are doing to challenge the status quo is quite long, and your publication offers nary a critique. I imagine you don’t critique these efforts because either (i) they have provided an argument that satisfies you, or (ii) you believe that they in fact support the status quo, because they wish to restore a former condition which you deem better than the current one. In the case of (i), it seems that you then favor the status quo unless you decide not to, which is not a unique position, nor one by which your politics can be defined. In the case of (ii), it is my view that your image of this former condition is not grounded in reality. The current movers and shakers of conservatism routinely implement policies which simply do not have precedence in the past. The idea that modern conservatism is defense of the status quo has far too many exceptions to be tenable even as a generality.

        For instance, the conservative board of governors recently stripped the Civil Rights Center of it ability to sue. This was controversial, as it is an institution with widespread community support. Do you consider this action to be in accordance with a good status quo? Do you support them?

        In your articles about Silent Sam, you make not one reference to Jim Crow, despite it being the belief system that begot the statue; despite it being the catalyst for immeasurable violence against people of color in this very community, many of whom are still alive, many of whom have or had a connection to the university. By your own admission, it was a civically endorsed racial hierarchy. By your own admission, you forgot about this. It disturbs me that you defend this statue with so much ink, while not even bothering to mention this system of violence and oppression that the statue has historically signified, objectively. When I say that your conception of the former condition is not grounded in reality, when I say that your understanding of this issue is not rigorously historically based, this is the sort of factual omission that I am referring to.

        If you respond to nothing else, answer me this: were you aware that a white supremacist motorcycle gang attacked a black man named James Cates in the UNC pit in 1970, and police neglected him medical assistance, allowing him to die? I ask because this murder was included in a brief fact sheet about the history of Silent Sam protests on the Wilson Library website. In doing any amount of internet research about the statue, one will find this source.

        In the above article, you imply that the oppression of African Americans belongs to some point in the distant past. Do you feel like you have a competent enough understanding of the history of local communities of color, and the violence that has been habitually committed against them, to make this claim? I ask this because, in both of your articles, you make little reference to specific historical events that support your argument. What sources does your understanding of race in America come from? What things did you read before writing what you wrote?

        -Alex

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