Plan B response speaks out of turn
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, November 7, 2006
In his response to Charles Rice (“Women, students deserve apology,” Nov. 2) Dan Hicks argues that it is incumbent upon columnists to respect their audience by offering them reasoned arguments rather than emotionally manipulative rhetoric. It is a good principle, especially if you believe that a culture of civic argument is the lifeblood of democracy.
However, just as a good law can become a bad law if it is selectively enforced, a good principle can become a bad one if it is applied in a partisan way. By appealing to the principle that respect requires rational persuasion in a letter devoted to criticizing a columnist with whom he clearly has deep disagreements, Mr. Hicks courts suspicion that the principle is not being invoked in good faith.
Has it really escaped Mr. Hicks’ notice that the distinction between rational persuasion and emotive manipulation is widely acknowledged in our society, even amongst those who have never read “After Virtue?” Emotional manipulation is frequently condemned; the problem is we tend to condemn it only when employed by our political opponents.
By applying our standards asymmetrically, holding those we believe to be wrong to a higher standard than those we believe to be right, we help to perpetuate a polarized political climate which inhibits the kind of reasoned democratic debate almost all of us claim to want.
Mr. Hicks concludes his letter by asking “on behalf of the Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s community” that Professor Rice apologize for failing to adhere to the argumentative standards that respect requires. He immediately goes on to say “I cannot speak for the women of our community,” which rather makes nonsense of the previous claim. But it was nonsense anyway. As a single student who holds no representative office, he cannot speak for the men of this community either. If Mr. Hicks feels entitled to an apology then he should of course ask for one, but as for the rest of us, men and women, he should pay us the respect of allowing us to make up our own minds when to be offended.