By chance, I saw The Agenda on 13 May: Freedom of Speech: At What Cost? The show was fascinating but also depressing, because it illustrated the main problem in any discussion of men and women (or any other groups in conflict).

Justin Trottier was admirably calm and articulate, I must say. Ditto for Janice Fiamengo. I’d say the same for Alice McLachlan, but she had an easier and therefore less admirable job. After all, her side carries public opinion in the academic world by default. On almost every campus, freedom of speech is acceptable only for those who say what the dominant group wants to hear. And feminists have become the dominant group among students. As for Rachel Déscoste, she smiled smugly while ranting. She relies on the notion that those who were silenced in the past are entitled to silence others in the present. Two wrongs, apparently, make a right. This is revenge, of course, not justice. It relies on the alleged legitimacy of “collective guilt,” moreover, and therefore on the alleged legitimacy of punishing the innocent along with the guilty. The conflict of values,  moral values, is so fundamental that I find it hard to be optimistic about debates at all. I don’t oppose debates, but I think that they’re a waste of time in some contexts. We should strive instead, I suggest, for dialogue.

In Transcending Misandry: From Feminist Ideology to Inter-sexual Dialogue–still in press, this is the fifth and final volume of a series on men and women–Katherine Young and I discuss the differences between dialogue and debate. Dialogue asserts the moral ideal of maintaining two “voices,” not the triumph of one over the other. It relies not only on etiquette but also, ultimately, on empathy and compassion on both sides. Participants must actually want to build bridges, find points of agreement, promote reconciliation and so on. Not everyone, clearly, would be either willing or able to participate in dialogue. Trottier would. Déscoste would not. She assumes that her adversaries are hateful or evil and, perhaps worst of all, “offensive.” Both she and McLachlan, moreover, assume that their adversaries are ignorant and stupid. Both assumptions lead them to the belief that their adversaries have no “right” to free speech, let alone the to serve the public by presenting rival ideas. As the Catholic Church used to say (but not since Vatican II) in connection with its opposition to religious freedom in  democracies: “Error has no rights.” Dialogue, or even a worthwhile debate, is no more possible for political ideologues than it would be for religious fundamentalists.