Saturday, November 24, 2007

Oxford Union: Muddled reasoning

The statement issued by Luke Tyrl, the president of the Oxford Union, is a clear example of really muddled thinking. He begins by arguing that Griffin and Irving are:
not being given a platform to extol their views, but are coming to talk about the limits of free speech.
If they are not being given a chance to expound on their views then why does Tyrl go on to say:
What is more, they will be speaking in the context of a forum in which there will be other speakers to challenge and attack their views in a head to head manner.

Obviously he expects them to use the opportunity to expound on their views. He then contends that "that pushing the views of these people underground achieves nothing." Mr. Tyrl seems not to understand that there is a vast difference between pushing views "underground" and simply not giving them a platform at the Oxford Union. Would he say that anyone with a controversial view who has not been privileged to speak at the Union has been driven "underground"? Clearly not.

Moreover he argues that the best way to deal with these people is "to crush these people in debate ." How does he propose "debating" someone such as David Irving who is a proven liar and falsifier of history?

He contends that "it's patronising to suggest that Oxford students aren't intelligent enough to debate with these people."

Challenging someone such as David Irving has little to do with intelligence, it has to do with knowing how he is lying and distorting the facts. And as smart as Oxford students may think they are, just because they are at Oxford does not mean they have the knowledge -- Mr. Tyrl does not seem to recognize the difference between intelligence and knowledge -- to catch a liar who distorts and falsifies.

It is simply hubris to assume that just because you are an Oxford student you automatically have the expertise to pinpoint his lies.

More distressing than the invitation itself is the confused reasoning -- if one can call it that -- of the president of the Union.


s said...

why don't you go on debate him then, expose his lies!

David Lieberman said...

A "debate" is exactly the wrong sort of forum in which to attempt to "expose his lies." Irving's rampant contempt for the basic requirement of factual accuracy can only be demonstrated in a context in which documentary evidence can be exhaustively supplied and which allows disinterested observers to verify the data being placed into evidence. One such context -- the normal context in which one carries out such discussions -- is the refereed academic journal. Another, of course, is the courtroom, where Professor Lipstadt has already participated in a fairly conclusive exposure of David Irving's lies. For Irving, for whom extemporaneous dishonesty is as natural as breathing, the theater of the debating forum provides a platform that effectively prevents the verification of factual claims in real time. It is, in short, the perfect platform for a liar.

Curt Hopkins said...

The Oxford students are, unfortunately, just the most prominent example of this hamfisted conflation of free speech with providing criminals and dunces with legitimizing platforms, as I write here:

s said...

"It is, in short, the perfect platform for a liar."

I agree, and therefore also the perfect platform for a politician!

Sean said...

I am an Oxford student and I agree with your criticisms of Luke Tryl's reasoning. In reality, however, the onslaught of negative media coverage has prevented Griffin and Irving from gaining any credibility from the invitation.

I support the invitation of Griffin and Irving because the purpose of the Oxford Union is to stimulate exactly the kind of debate in which you and much of the country are now, as a result, participating.