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.
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.—-
On Thursday, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson hosted the School of Media and Journalism’s annual Roy H. Park Distinguished Lecture speaker. The Triad Foundation has invited a distinguished media professional to deliver a free speech for UNC students since 1999. The event’s announcement on Twitter in February prompted an immediate backlash and numerous articles in The Daily Tarheel. Many online slander conservatives like Carlson as fascists or neo-Nazis. The ubiquity of responses like these prepared me for the speech to be protested. I expected to write a piece about the ridiculousness of the protestors. When they didn’t show, I sort of missed them.
There was no disruption of the speech in the theater or outside of it. This absence might be due to North Carolina’s recent free speech bill which prevents student protests which “materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the constituent institution.” The master of ceremonies informed the audience ahead of time that, in accordance with NC law, anyone who disrupts the presentation would be subject to disciplinary action by the school and possibly arrested. As a result, those in attendance really fell into two categories: older community members and younger conservative students. The atmosphere was convivial, and Tucker worked the crowd expertly. Topics included journalistic skepticism, Trump, sexual harassment, and immigration. The overall experience, though, felt self-affirming. It makes me nervous when a big group of people get together to agree with each other. As a skeptic and an individualist, the lack of vocal opposition was unsettling. Perhaps it indicates a new willingness to consider conservative opinions. More likely is the possibility that the recent crackdown on student protest discouraged attendance among left-leaning students. It is vital that we listen to people we disagree with, so I would have actually been comforted by the presence of dissenters in the crowd.
Tucker touched on this divide when speaking about the last election. He asked why anyone would vote for Trump in the first place. He referenced the president as a “giant orange middle finger” and asked toward whom the finger was directed and why we should care. Neglect of the middle class, diversity ideology, and poor leadership all helped form the country that elected Trump in November. But raising those points are now unfortunately outside what is in policy circles called the “window of discourse.” Thus, some students find it necessary to materially impede speech they deem inappropriate for civil dialogue. If support for and identification with the Trump movement weren’t so abnormal, perhaps they wouldn’t need to protest. Furthermore, maybe we wouldn’t need the measures recently enacted by the Board of Governors.
The “window of discourse” is a concept first theorized by policy expert Joseph C. Overton. It describes the range of socially acceptable ideas on any given public issue. A politician who endorses a view outside of the window would be branded as radical. Overton’s theory applies to everyone from celebrities to college students. No one could argue that there hasn’t been a reactionary movement in response to political developments enacted by Trump. Political polarization on college campuses has significantly shifted the level of discourse to exclude those with more traditionally conservative opinions. Before 2008, no Democratic candidate endorsed gay marriage, free college, or single payer healthcare. Today, those policies are considered mainstream. Likewise, opposing gay marriage, for example, is an opinion deemed unthinkable to many college students. The recent adoption of left-wing fringe policies into the mainstream has inevitably cleaved traditional conservative ideas into the category of the absurd.
Conservative commentators like Carlson now face the dilemma of falling outside the window of discourse. Traditionally conservative opinions are dubbed fascist or white supremacist.
This phenomenon is extremely dangerous for the future of the country. College students who are ostracized for opposing gay marriage or open borders are now put into the same category as genuine neo-Nazis and white supremacists. These people who are voted off the island of ordinary conversation are left with two options; they either must become a powerless minority, or find common cause with actual radicals. Many who have been identified with the “Alt-right” since 2017 have chosen the latter. It is evident that this upsurge is only a preview of the future to come if we wish to censor those who hold beliefs deemed beyond the pale in a given moment, despite the reasoned and philosophical lineage of those ideas.
Life in a world constituted by conflict entails two means of dealing with others: negotiation or violence. Negotiation is dialogue meant to generate consonance between different desires or abstract models of the world around us. If two people want a banana, they can either fight over it or negotiate cutting it in half. If I’m for gay marriage and you’re against it, we can either fight over it or arrange some sort of compromise.
We don’t even have to fundamentally agree on the issue to reach a peaceful settlement. Catholics and Protestants don’t agree about the question of transubstantiation, but they aren’t (any longer) killing each other over it. There isn’t any sort of resolution on this issue, but competing parties have negotiated a settlement agreeable to both.
Branding those outside the window of discourse Nazis or white supremacists disincentivizes them from negotiating a settlement. If we can’t settle our differences, then the only way to act out our separate models of the world is through violence. This is not a functional model for society.
So, whether you’re a die-hard socialist, a center-left Obama/Clinton voter, intersectional feminist scholar, or all of the above, I implore you to attend the next conservative speech on campus. By all means, question what you hear. But come and hear it even if you don’t agree.
On a rainy Thursday afternoon a lethargic group of about 20 students and faculty gathered again outside the South Building to protest against Silent Sam with a sit-in. Sit-ins like this have been a daily occurrence since the semester began on August 22. “We’ve been doing this every day,” says grad student Maya Little, “It’s gotten a lot of attention.”
But, many on campus aren’t aware that the protestors are still here. Over 100 school days have passed since the sit-ins began. “Personally, I find it sort of arbitrary to be arguing about a monument,” said junior Logan Beard, “there are real-world issues going on around here and in our state. The homeless shelter in Chapel Hill is overcrowded, and vagrants flood out onto Franklin Street. That’s an issue that’s real.” Indeed, there are many other timely issues which require UNC student activists’ attention.
Here is a list of things UNC students have to be concerned about instead of Silent Sam:
- Tax cuts, the budget, gun control, and immigration reform are all issues that are still very much up for debate in Washington.
- In Raleigh, a host of new legislators have filed for candidacy in the midterms. The News and Observer reported that every legislative race in the state would feature both a Republican and Democrat candidate for the first time in history.
- Jalek Felton withdrew from UNC over allegations of unnamed misconduct.
- A plan for massive expansion of offshore drilling and seismic testing in North Carolina’s Outer Banks has the potential to threaten numerous communities and devastate the environment. Municipalities across the state have opposed the plan.
- The Supreme Court blocked a ruling on North Carolina’s gerrymandering controversy which would favor Republicans in the midterms.
- Duane Hall forcefully kissed a woman in a report detailing a slew of sexual harassment allegations.
- DACA permits start expiring on March 5th.
- People like Charles Gear have been living on and off Franklin Street since the 1980’s. Chapel Hill’s homelessness problem is persistent and hard to ignore.
- North Carolina Republicans are violating campaign policies by making automated calls without a disclaimer.
The list of pressing, current state and local issues worth our attention is lengthy, and yet many are determined to continue the sit-ins until their demands are met regarding a nearly 105-year-old statue.
When I met with the protesters at the sit-in, their tone wasn’t exactly friendly. Nor did they seem outraged enough to be overtly hostile. Most asked not to have their pictures taken and didn’t want to be associated with the protest. One told me he wasn’t a fan of the Review. Opponents of the statue claim that it deters African-American applicants from applying for admission. No one has provided any data to support this. No surveys have gone out or studies conducted on this issue by one of the nation’s leading research universities. It’s hard to imagine they’re after anything but the symbolism. That’s not to say symbolism isn’t worth a debate. But is it worth 150 days of protest? I’m not in the habit of advising political opponents. But at this point, we have to ask: Who cares anymore?
On Sunday morning, an anonymous group of 17 faculty members decided to take the Silent Sam issue into their own hands. The self-proclaimed “group of 17” delivered an ultimatum to Chancellor Folt via e-mail: remove the statue by March 1st at midnight, or we will do it ourselves.
Exactly when the group would act, however, is undetermined. According to the email, the statue may be taken down within the hour, week, or month of the deadline, and could happen at any time from early in the morning to the middle of the night.
Although deciding to remain anonymous, the group claims to not fear arrest and the inevitable repercussions, which would include losing their anonymity. This perplexing contradiction of cause and effect has left some thinking the email is a hoax, and the university has been unable to confirm its validity.
The motivation for their action lies in the professors’ desires to remove the statue that, in their interpretation, is a monument to white supremacy and places the well being of students and staff in jeopardy.
Indeed, these professor gone rogue are acting from their self-anointed perch on the moral high ground. According to them, the existence of the statue is wrong and removing it is right. There is no middle ground. If you disagree, you are a bigot.
While what these faculty members are doing seems pleasant at face value, the logic behind their argument for the statue’s removal is dubious if not entirely fallacious.
The second paragraph in the initial message sent to the chancellor states, “The proudest moments of the university have been when Carolina is on the right side of history. Not cowed by bigots, intimidated by white supremacists or fearful of retribution.” In other words, not only is removing the statue unquestionably just, but the only reason the statue remains is due to the action or threat of action from white supremacists, whoever they are, and not state law. It is a classic liberal strawman argument.
In the succeeding paragraph, the group cites the official policy of the university, which, simply put, proclaims the university an inclusive and welcoming environment dedicated to maintaining a campus free from discrimination, harassment, and related misconduct. Silent Sam’s existence, according to the group, is a direct breach of this policy, because it “is an ever-present signal to students, faculty, and staff of color that they are not welcome nor equally valued on campus.” Never mind that this interpretation of the statue’s purpose and effect is wildly subjective, but the argument is based entirely on anecdotal evidence and not any type of provable, statistical reality.
These anonymous professors believe that what they are doing falls within their “charge of pastoral care” as faculty members. Apparently they can think of no better way to provide guidance to young minds than to attempt to show them it is okay to break the law when things do not go your way as long as you think what you are doing is right
Whether or not this e-mail is real or a hoax is yet to be seen. It seems unlikely that the University will act if the e-mail’s legitimacy remains unproven. However, the March 1st deadline is approaching quickly, so expect to hear more about this story as the week goes on.