A real debate, it is not

Brian Kutzley and Brian Kutzley

“Hey! Come back with that debate!” College is supposed to be a good time to rethink personal values within the context of advanced scholastic achievement and, frequently, lots and lots of reading. I, for one, can say that my values changed a great deal from the first days on campus. But there is a problem. For students to reach their own conclusion about values, they need to have access to multiple vantage points and arguments. Very frequently our University adopts specific value assumptions and takes off running – leaving those of us who are not convinced sitting at an empty table in an empty room waiting for the debate that has already been stolen. Sufficient to say, this trend leaves us a little baffled and a lot miffed.

I call it the “beyond reproach” argument. Some values are inherently presented as fact – or if not fact than at least as the “understood paradigm” – with little or no burden of proof. In all honestly it is an impressive tactic. Our American Culture Studies department teaches (as point of fact) that men and women of alternative sexual orientation make up an underrepresented and highly victimized demographic. A fascinating conclusion seeing as how it is based entirely on a value assumption that the majority of the American democracy simply does not accept.

With a consistent popular vote against gay marriage and comparable bills, and equally high support for an actual amendment to strictly define marriage, the American constituents seem to have accepted the premise that our LGTB community is not, in fact, a repressed demographic but instead is a collection of individuals pursuing deviant behaviors. Their sympathy for those individuals is essentially the same as they feel towards drug addicts – compassion does not translate to legalizing, and therefore legitimizing, the subject of their dependency. Also, to pre-empt anyone who might wish to write in on why the argument for gay rights is beyond reproach, let me point out that there are voting records and polls from across America that quite eloquently speak to the contrary, to say nothing of the fact that publishing an article on the matter seems to further prove the need for discourse.

This column is not meant to be about gay rights, that is simply the setting I am most familiar with. And I will also acknowledge that I and others of my perspective on campus have been invited to – and gratefully accepted – invitations to panel discussions on the issue over the last two years. Unfortunately, however, my original accusation still stands. Entire departments at our University are based on value assumptions that are controversial and sometimes even contradictory. As a means of segue, let me point out that at every panel discussion I have attended or spoken at, at least one member of the panel or audience reminds me that “gender is not a binary matter, but instead a full spectrum of perspectives and identities,” and yet we need a distinct Women’s Studies program. I am ashamed to say that we treat minorities the same way. We tell them that all individuals possess equal potential and dignity as human beings, but then constantly segregate them for study as the “subject of historical and institutionalized oppression.” Perhaps I am alone in this belief, but bonds of silk are still constricting.

Fortunately, that leads nicely into my disclaimer. There are times when the “beyond reproach” message is fully valid. The best example of this is the statement that non-whites and women have the exact same value, intelligence and potential as whites and men. That is an easily defended value: It is encompassed in two amendments of the constitution. I will even acknowledge that there are values which are beyond reproach but not incorporated into our laws. For instance, intentionally causing emotional distress is a concept which has been debated in law for quite some time, and to the best of my knowledge we are still nowhere near a working legal solution.

All the same, I feel no obligation to hunt down an individual of the alternative persuasion to keep the debate alive. And there are of course changes that should be made in public values. However, those changes should be delivered by a fully educated public in which the majority acknowledges the validity of the argument for change. It should never, in a democracy, come from an institution eager to play the role of sage on the mountaintop.