At university, truth-seeking takes precedence over hurt feelings

But the demands of science leave room for a wide variety of interpretations and starting points. The boundaries between scientific and unscientific can never be precisely formulated. In borderline cases, it is wise to assume the benefit of the doubt. The ax only drops when flat earth appears.


Buijs, by the way, makes it difficult for himself. He suggests that the symbols of masculinity and femininity are “folded” into the “cosmic order”. Icons are actually “living things”. The reptile is also such a cosmic symbol. Buijs says David Icke’s idea of ​​alien reptiles controlling us isn’t crazy. These esoteric fantasies, popular among right-wing populists, only belong in the university as a subject of study. But as far as I know, Buijs has not yet claimed his scholarly place in his teaching.

The second issue raised by the students concerned the alleged discriminatory nature of Puig’s views. The focus of the painful discourse is “safe space”. Minimally formulated, this concept means equal, non-discriminatory and respectful treatment for all. In this sense, this safe lecture hall differs little from Jürgen Habermas’s model of a free-energy, equal conversational setting.

The core of the point of view of Buijs’ opponents can be found in the following sentence of their petition: “We do not accept the denial of the lived reality of non-dualistic persons.” The authors are correct that Buijs sees non-binary identity as a specter and dismisses non-binary activism as extremes, attention-seeking, and effect-seeking. But is it reasonable to prevent the claim that one’s identity is based on a misunderstanding?

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Rephrased as a general principle, the activists’ view is that statements of negative or unfavorable intent toward countries, cultures, or population groups as such should be considered discriminatory and abhorrent. But such statements are not necessarily the case. How about the following statements: Western culture is the most warlike culture in history. Men are on average more offenders than women; Eucharistic eating is a symbolic form of cannibalism. These are all thoughts that affect large groups in their experienced identities and may even hurt them deeply. But negative generalizations are not yet a distinction. At university, truth-seeking takes precedence over hurt feelings.

The safe space that has erupted from the United States has another fundamentally problematic dimension. The space is also considered unsafe when students are confronted with theories or images of a racist, transphobic, or otherwise unpleasant nature—even if the lecturer does not endorse the misery but merely presents it as an object of study. Intercourse with this material is in itself offensive and should therefore be avoided.

My Kampf

There is no better illustration of this extreme in the concept of security than the word “nigger”. In view of the fact that people have gradually begun to experience the word as a swear word, it has rightly been withdrawn from civilized language use. But the difference between using the word and merely stating it has now faded away. Even respectable dailies and weeklies now replace it with the “N” without a trace of irony. From this reasoning, a lecture devoted to the “History of the Word Negro” produces insecurity. A lecture on Négritude is going to be tough.

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For years in a political philosophy class, I discussed Mein Kampf’s chapter on the racial state with students. But, according to the activist’s logic, could this not lead to an “unsafe situation”, for example, for Jewish students?

Confusing ambivalence goes hand in hand with a discourse of vulnerability: simply confronting discriminatory material can already be experienced by students as an intolerable attack. The system that many adults consider essential for children – keeps what’s wrong out of their sight! – Activists declare that they apply to themselves and their supporters: self-fighting. Academic freedom remains intact only if everything can be named and displayed—whatever word, picture, or text; Offensive material should never be considered a prohibited study objective.

Eric van Ree is a former Lecturer in Eastern European Studies and currently visiting scholar at UvA.

Megan Vasquez

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