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Sun, Mar 14, 2004

To the Editor:

Okay, I guess this one requires a bit of explanation. I knocked around Brown U. for five or six years before finally dropping out for good (?) in...I guess it would be '96.

Skip a few years in there... In early spring of 2001, neocon racial provocateur David Horowitz includes Brown in the list for his little social experiment/publicity stunt -- a full-page paid ad in campus papers with the catchy title Why Racial Reparations for Blacks Are a Bad Idea, and Racist too. Brown responds all too typically, with a mob, excuse me coalition of students stealingconfiscating all copies of a subsequent issue of the campus paper as some sort of weird retaliation (they call it a "protest").

After a couple days of trying to parse the tangled rhetoric explaining why what they did was a blow for freedom and justice, and that their right to never see offensive material had been violated; and after watching the school administration's typically gutless response, the following work gurgled forth from my pen in the wee small hours, and got e-mailed to the Brown Daily Herald that very day. They never responded, and I can hardly say I blame them.

To the Editor:

I read with interest in the Boston Globe, and then in the BDH, about The Coalition's decision to act decisively in protecting Brown's student population from misleading and dangerous ideas, and in teaching the BDH a much-needed lesson in the importance of respect.

This was a bold step toward a campus free of disturbing or contrary ideas and information. Now that the process has begun, it's time to take a few steps back and decide on a larger plan.

In the long term, we may wish to consider whether it is only college students who need to be shielded from rude and disrespectful thoughts, or whether perhaps everyone in the nation is in need of such protection. In the meantime, a plan-of-action is needed for giving current undergraduates the protection they so urgently need.

I'm no historian, and Brown's experts in the field are urged to correct any inaccuracies in my analysis, but my layman's understanding is that the task of protecting people from harmful information has traditionally been approached in one of two manners.

The first is called prior protection. In this system, representatives of your organization view all intended-for-publication materials before they go to press, and delete any offending passages. This method is admirably thorough, and particularly useful for blocking the dissemination of concrete information such as references to unacceptable persons or events, or the dates and times of forbidden political rallies, lectures on forbidden topics, etc.. Disadvantages include the substantial workforce involved in approving all documents by hand, and the ability of coded or subtle messages to occasionally pass unhampered.

The second, and probably more appropriate, method is protection-after-the-fact. In this approach, persons or organizations who violate the often-unwritten standards are taught the proper respect after their crime has been committed. When properly applied, most publications will soon be too respectful of the protector's concerns to even approach dangerous topics at all.

Another advantage of this method is that, whereas the former requires the support of a bureaucracy and legal code, this one works almost equally well as an arm of the administration, or as an informal citizen's group. Note, however, that such groups in this country have generally found it useful to adopt a distinctive uniform as a means of fostering "team spirit" and protecting the identities of the more delicately-positioned members of the group.

The disadvantage of this method, of course, is that the occasional malevolent or brainwashed individual will inevitably get his or her message out before being taught the value of respect. All the more important, then, for examples to be made of such reprobates so that the student population can once again feel safe.

These of course are merely the broadest outlines of the policy decisions ahead of you as the newly self-appointed protectors of student minds. I leave the details in your capable hands, and look forward, with keen and sincere interest, as you lead our University into the future.

Yours Respectfully,
Sebastian Banker, B'95.5
modestproposal@sebbo.org

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