I recently got sucked into a debate at my former college that got me thinking about how personal responsibility is slowly being replaced by the jerking knee.


I recently got sucked into a debate at my former college that got me thinking about how personal responsibility is slowly being replaced by the jerking knee.
I’d like to believe our society is fueled by the friction between opposites, and that the median is better than the extremes. Former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson put it best when he said, “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”
However, there are those that think the elimination of dissent or dissenters is the fastest path to equality and fairness, as I discovered with my former school.
While there, I was heavily involved in student government, and I had the chance to write a code of ethics for the organization. I was, and remain, proud of that code. I worked very hard drafting what I thought was a fair document that helped ensure ethical behavior, but protected the right of the members of student government to speak their minds.
Yet, when a friend of mine who sits on the student government judiciary wrote columns for the school newspaper from a conservative standpoint that were, in all fairness, pretty incendiary, that code was used to try and impeach him. I had included a discrimination clause in the code that was pretty broad, and some interpreted discrimination as opinion, rather than an act. So, we were all off to the races, and I found myself, more than three years later, having to explain a document that I thought was self-explanatory. I also found myself explaining, to my surprise, that the kind of discrimination I included required an act, rather than a simple thought or opinion.
Days went on, and I became more frustrated. I wondered why they don’t realize that removing someone from office because of their opinion was a bad thing. I wondered why they don’t realize the fact that if they were offended by my friend’s writing, they could just put it down and read something else, or not read anything at all. Nobody has a gun to their head.
Then I realized the most important thing of all, something I had overlooked. It’s not that they don’t know. It’s that they don’t care. They read something they disagreed with and were trying to eliminate it by any means available. That’s a problem. If he wrote something they agreed with, this conversation would never have started.
The fact that it takes place at a college is even more troubling. Isn’t college a place specifically designed to expose a person to things they don’t like or agree with, and then instill critical thinking skills to properly examine it? I’d like to think so, but I think I might be wrong. In our society, there seems to be a smoking crater between theory and practice on many levels.
The jerking knee brings its own justifications. My friend’s speech might be harmful, because it doesn’t take positions of power and privilege into account. My friend’s speech does not take into account prevailing opinion and mores. Layers upon layers of academic obscuations were added, producing a final justification for the act that does not resemble its root cause - namely that my friend wrote something others didn’t like, committed no crime and he almost lost his position over it. Bubba can come to the conclusion that’s wrong before the brainiac can, it seems.
Thankfully, my friend was not impeached. When the motion failed, the same people that brought the complaint tried to pass a motion of disapproval against him, saying his columns reflected poorly on student government. That failed too, thankfully. The crisis was averted, yet the jerking knee remains.
When I was in college, I thought I knew everything, too. It’s a place to learn and explore. In fact, the most valuable thing anyone can take away from any college is that they probably don’t know everything, and true wisdom comes from having the courage to say, on occasion, I don’t know. However, those whose knees jerk in college, without some self-examination, will find themselves in the real world, with real power. Just ask former USDA worker Shirley Sherrod how that can affect people. Several knees jerked her right out of a job.
Some absolutes exist for a reason, some slopes are kept slippery on purpose and, to quote George Orwell, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”