Archive for February 26th, 2014

Kony 2012I like to consider myself a level-headed, rational person; someone who isn’t easily swept up into fervor or misled by the charismatic.  Being on a major college campus has certainly put these traits to the test.  Massive emotional appeals rock the campus constantly, and appeals to donate to many organizations are commonplace; my lack of unconditional support of every such endeavor has damaged some of my relationships.  However weak the premise, I can never effectively reveal the falsity of the claims; to even try is to be ostracized.  Lately “sex trafficking” hysteria has become more and more prevalent here, and speakers are coming to ply their trade.  How I should try to educate my peers?  I loathe misinformation in all its forms, but I am not so charming a person as to be able to sway the opinions of the passionate.

Many beside yourself have commented on the sad fact that the modern university campus is not only inhospitable, but actively hostile to free speech and rational thought.  A whole organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, exists to fight the top-down abuses, but unfortunately they can’t do much about peer-to-peer behavior.  You didn’t mention your course of study, but even if you’re in the sciences that doesn’t protect you from the irrational belief-systems of everyone else; even science students and some full-fledged scientists can be incredibly irrational about subjects other than their own (during my time at UNO there was a tenured chemistry professor who was a well-known creationist).

Don’t feel bad because you aren’t able to fight disinformation single-handedly; though there are a few people who can do that, they are driven in a way that most of us simply aren’t.  Even the most dedicated and skilled campaigners need a support network, others who see things in at least a similar way and will fight alongside them.  A lot of people view me as larger than life, but in truth I need that support just like everyone else does; if it weren’t for the readers who praise my work and the fellow-activists who brace me up in areas where I’m weak, I might have quit long ago.  So in order to effectively oppose “sex trafficking”, other moral panics and the host of other ridiculous beliefs which infest modern Western culture, you need a group of like-minded others.  I’ll bet there are a lot more students (and faculty) who feel the same way as you do than you might imagine; the reason you don’t know about them is that like you, they don’t want to be ostracized.  Human beings have a powerful need for the approval of peers, and fanatics take advantage of that to silence their critics; what you therefore need is your own group of peers who will “have your back” when you’re attacked.  Does your campus have a skeptic’s society or the like?  If so, you might consider joining it, and if not, why not start one?  You may still have to fight “sex trafficking” beliefs even within such a club, but at least there you’ll have the advantage of dealing with people who can be reasoned with,NYU Human Rights Day poster and who can be swayed by presenting facts from the many academics, activists and other writers who oppose the panic (there are many good articles on my Resources page).  If your group is large enough, you can probably come up with the means to print flyers or posters to counter prohibitionist claims, and perhaps even get your own speakers to counter the hysterics’ “trafficking” porn.  I’m not telling you it will be easy, but with enough help and support it will at least be possible.  And though you won’t win overnight, time is on your side:  moral panics have a limited life span, and as time goes on you’ll find increasing numbers are listening to the truth rather than wallowing in hysteria.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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