Here is a video interview that FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) president Greg Lukianoff did with Steve Pinker about the touchy subject of whether some issues shouldn’t be discussed at all, especially on American college campuses. Some campuses actually have stricter “speech codes” than society outside the university walls. (FIRE is dedicated to fostering free speech and individual rights at American colleges and universities.)
Pinker concludes—and I agree completely—that while some subjects are appropriately off-limits in personal relationships (like the proposition in the movie “Indecent Proposal,” where Robert Redford offered Woody Harrelson money to sleep with his wife), ” it “becomes maladaptive when you apply the logic of intimate relationships to the sphere of ideas, where by entertaining a particular idea you basically entrain your solidarity with the tribe.”
But now, with tribalism on the wane, such taboos get in the way of finding the truth. Indeed, Steve even notes that his own thesis in Better Angels of Our Nature—that violence in the world has declined over time—has met with opposition from progressive scholars.
Should we be able to discuss whether there are biological differences between genders, races/ethnic groups, and individuals? Absolutely. Yet even the skeptical Left bridles at such a conclusion, since they see invidious results from such research—indeed, from even raising such question. I don’t agree; I guess I agree with the old saw “the truth will set you free.” That’s why I try—but perhaps don’t always succeed—in fostering free exchange of ideas on this website while avoiding the demonization of individuals who express certain opinions.
It seems to me that it’s nearly always better to know the truth (e.g., we’re going to die, you have a terminal disease, you don’t have free will, and so on), than to live in ignorance, or to suppress investigation of the truth. That said, there is a time and a place to impart truth, and that is why, as Sam Harris says in Free Will, he won’t be telling his young daughter about her lack of free will until she matures a bit!
This talk is particularly relevant to the current debates going on in the skeptical community, in which certain subjects and opinions seem to be prima facie off limits for discussion.