Nicholas Christakis on “creative abrasion”: Why free speech and inclusion are incompatible

In this Big Think video, Nicholas Christakis, who of course was involved in the Yale Halloween Kerfuffle in 2015, resulting in him and his wife Erika resigning as heads of Silliman College, discusses why the clash of ideas—as clash guaranteed to make people uncomfortable—is not only an inevitable part of being in college, but it a required part of being in college. Like many who have suffered at the hands of vociferous and invidiously woke students, Christakis has become an eloquent defender of free speech.

The fact is that if you have an idea, or a personal set of guiding ideas and beliefs, you are going to take it personally when people attack them. This is only human. Indeed, you might regard pushback against your beliefs as “hate speech”, because you feel your persona is under attack. Your ideas are, after all, yours. 

In science we constantly face this kind of criticism, and most of us are inured to it. We get critical reviews of our papers, and even rejections, we face hard questioning when we give a seminar, and we’re always asking ourselves, “What flaws could there be in my study? Did I analyze the data properly? Is the interpretation sound?” For we have learned that this kind of professional captiousness is the only way to move science forward.

As it is in science, so it should be in college. You never know whether your ideas are flawed until someone who disagrees with you goes after them with hammer and tongs. You can, of course, shut up your critics by calling them racists or purveyors of hate speech or simply “haters.” But then you don’t get to test the mettle of your beliefs.

Here, Christakis eloquently conveys this point of view. It contravenes those pusillanimous and craven college administrators who tell their students, “Yes, you can have your free speech and your inclusion too.” For, in the end, if your ideas are attacked or refuted, you don’t feel “inclusiveness”—unless you’ve inured yourself against taking the battle of ideas personally.

h/t: Kit

8 Comments

  1. Dan T.
    Posted September 20, 2019 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    “Silliman College” is a sexist name… it should be “Silly PERSON College”.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 21, 2019 at 6:24 am | Permalink

      I don’t think he had a choice – once the mineral was discovered, he had to be named for it, with the inevitability of colliding plates and eroding mountains.

  2. Colin
    Posted September 20, 2019 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Indeed. As Charles Caleb Colton said: “We owe almost all of our knowledge not to those who have agreed, but to those who have differed.”

    • ladyatheist
      Posted September 20, 2019 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      … who turned out to be right.

      Most outliers are crackpots and crazies.

  3. Adam M.
    Posted September 20, 2019 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    I think free speech is only incompatible with the kind of “inclusion” that’s actually exclusion of people with points of view objectionable to the local orthodoxy. Kinda like how supporting “diversity” seems to require enforcing a surprising degree of uniformity on a wide variety of political and social questions.

  4. Posted September 20, 2019 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorta with Adam M., only he puts it too mildly. My take: that’s not what inclusiveness means. Yes, some people use it that way, but that’s definitely not a good reason to follow suit.

  5. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted September 21, 2019 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    I don’t know where the ‘why free speech and inclusion are incompatible’ line came from. Seems dubious to me. Does he say that?

  6. Posted September 23, 2019 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, for the extreme members of the “inclusion at any cost” crowd, they deny that truth is discoverable; they regard its invocation as a rhetorical trope of the powerful.

    Fortunately sometimes one can win. My friend Raven realized the objectivist was right when I pointed out that under her subjectivist view – like the above – nobody should take her complaints of (very real) injustice seriously.


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