The Ayers Affair (I): Introduction
Even if I wanted to, I could not keep from exploring the debate around former Weatherman William Ayers - regarding his past activities, his political philosophy, his views on education, his personal and professional relationships, and the individuals and organizations who have those relationships. The topic intersects three areas of my professional study and practice – national security, public education and law. It covers the entirety of my life as a politically aware individual. Above all, it says far more about the nature of policymaking in public education than many realize.
I have been outlining, researching, writing and redrafting a piece on this nonstop since Tuesday afternoon. If I wait until it’s complete, edbizbuzz will be bare of content for too long. So today, I’m starting to release it in digestible chunks. The stream will not end for a while.
Warning: I reserve the right to edit back posts as I go. I’m aiming for a coherent end result, and readers should understand they are viewing a work in progress.
If you have a comment and you have a blog, you may want to copy my post along with your comment, and place the two on your site “for the record.”
Preface - Fair Play in Debate
Debate is an important means by which the public becomes informed. Ideas are put to the test when proponents must respond to pointed questions and defend apparent weaknesses in their positions. As a lawyer, I value the adversarial process as one means of seeking truth. But there are limits. Because a good orator can sway a jury by appealing to emotion, there are rules against inflammatory remarks in criminal trials. There are rules of evidence in any court proceeding. Formal debate outside of the courtroom recognizes logical fallacies (e.g, the false dilemma/false choice) and irrelevant arguments; (e.g., attacking the man rather than his argument.) In both fields, the rules force adversaries to play fair.
In politics, whatever society tolerates is fair, and so it’s really up to third parties to police transgressions. If you or I don’t speak up when debate gets off the point of reason, we’re risking a descent in the direction of prejudice, “might makes right” and, ultimately, chaos. There’s an analogy here to the “broken windows theory” of urban crime: Allowing widows to be broken invites worse behaviors leading to a further deterioration of neighborhood safety. Standing by while people in positions of responsibility, especially opinion makers, employ rhetorical devices that invite readers to infer a whole class of Americans are somehow in sympathy with something reprehensible, courts a drop into anarchy when someone makes an explicit charge precisely along those lines.