Damn us all

Much ink has been spilt over Michael Moore’s visit to the University of Nevada, Reno this week. It’s a horrible, horrible thing really, people angrily expressing opposing views, some demanding in raised voices that Michael Moore not be allowed to spill his liberal guts into the accepting young ears of our naïve college students, others telling the anti-Moore crowd to shut up.

Businessman Rick Reviglio threatened to withhold donations if elected student officials didn’t change their contract with the portly, unshaven and frightening director.

“I am going to move forward with the press that Michael Moore cost the university a hundred thousand dollars because he didn’t want to debate,” he said on a voicemail message.

We’ll be damned if we’ll attempt to modify a signed contract, said the elected student government, hoping like hell the university officials would back them up on an obvious freedom-of-thought issue.

I’ll be damned if I’ll let some guy who didn’t even attend this university decide who gets to speak here, said UNR president John Lilley, hoping like hell that the alumni who did indeed go to school here would see reason.

“Universities have, historically, been a bastion for free speech, upholding the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States,” he wrote optimistically. “Indeed, universities champion the free exchange of ideas and encourage students and faculty to explore and even question what may be long-held beliefs.”

It’s not like this argument hasn’t been made before. Much more radical minds than ours have painted a much more nuanced picture of the debate.

“When men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1919 when he established the “marketplace of ideas” metaphor for freedom of speech. “That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.”

We’ll protest, hollered the mighty Moms against Michael Moore. We’ll be damned if we’ll let that imbecile speak his mind and fool our poor igit children with his web of lies.

We’ll protest, too, cried the College Republicans, shivering with rage and frustration that America didn’t buy into the theory that Michael Moore prevented the university from receiving a $100,000 donation.

Now, here’s the thing, screams out the RN&R, spewing the obvious. This is the way it’s supposed to work, folks. That there should be consensus before decisions are made is the lie of the powerful. The marketplace of ideas demands heated debates, hurled invectives and contemplative thought in order to work as Justice Holmes theorized.

We’d like to congratulate each and every one of the participants in this First Amendment exercise. Most importantly, we’d like to applaud Jeff Champagne, the student vice president for programming, for having the courage of his convictions in the face of 100,000 arguments to the contrary.