Arguing with Enemies: Interpretation as Invective
The Bible-quoting football coach described in the last chapter might have had enough authoritarian instincts of his own to sympathize, at least a little, with the university president's censorship of his antigay opinions. But he must have been stunned to hear her depictions of his behavior. The president claimed that he had made "a mockery of freedom of expression" and that he had threatened "the value and dignity of other human beings." Thus, for having made a brief and literal reference to a revered book, the coach was cast as a dangerous, evil man. He no doubt believed that his statement had been an exercise of free speech, not an attack on that principle, and that his Christian concepts of sinfulness are compatible with human dignity. Even on the assumption that there was some truth in the charges, they represent a commonly observed contemporary phenomenon -- the degeneration of public debate into exaggeration and invective.
Name-calling, obviously, serves many of the same functions as outright censorship. As a threat, it frightens some people into silence. Moreover, it discredits what the brave (or foolhardy) do say. As the coach's experience demonstrates, it defines moral disputes as settled when in fact they are still underway. In these ways, it protects the beneficiary class -- the people who are thought to be in need of improvement -- from having to consider opinions that the leadership thinks they are not able to handle for themselves.