Controversy and Conversation

For (I think) the first time on this blog, I’ve made a post password-protected.  I don’t really want to make that a regular habit, but the subject matter is sufficiently nuanced and potentially controversial that I wanted to let a few trusted folks review it before I made my position globally visible.

Fundamentally, this issue relates to what Paul Graham raised in his essay “What You Can’t Say“.  The idea of being a neutral Switzerland of ideas is contrasted with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton character:

I’d rather be divisive than indecisive.

In fact, I think one could fairly make the point that the whole play is the tension between Aaron Burr (“Talk less; Smile more”) and Hamilton’s exuberant position taking.

I think the real world should be a balance between these things.  I gave a speech about guns on campus last week, and I fully expected that the former faculty and other audience members would be very frustrated with the state of Kansas law.  I was pleasantly surprised at how open and free the dialogue proved, and it was a remarkably civil and informed conversation.  The experience gave me hope that we can still maintain civil society through conversation, facts, and dialogue.  I was flattered when one audience member commented that my talk was “encyclopedic”.

I suppose I’m lucky to be unafraid of public speaking.  When given the chance, I think I’m going to continue holding talks and forums on interest of public issues, even when they are controversial.  In any case, I hope I never lose the humility to be open to changing my own mind, even when I hold what I think is a nuanced and researched position.  But I also think that part of being a good citizen is the ability to hold and debate opinions on controversial subjects, even if I’m not willing to advertise these on my blog.