As the reader will most probably be aware: Laurens Buijs, UvA academic and publicist, has been at the epicentre of criticism, discussion and controversy for months thanks to his statements about ‘wokeism’ (whatever that actually means today), which he believes poses a threat to academic freedom. His view that non-binary gender identity has no scientific basis struck a particular chord and led to a series of strong reactions, including boycotts.

Het Academiegebouw in Groningen

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This was also the case in Groningen, where several participants boycotted a conference of higher education media on Thursday, 13 April when they heard that Buijs had been invited to a debate. Although the organisation wanted to let the debate go ahead despite the boycott, it was eventually cancelled after another speaker who no longer wanted to join in the debate because of all the controversy dropped out.

Senad Delic (25) studies Philosophy and has been politically active in various left-wing or Marxist organizations in the past. On 26 April, he took part in a debate on polarisation at the Arminius Church with philosophers Gijs van Oenen, Stine Jensen, Ronald van Raak and Arwen Vonck, among others.

However, the question with these kinds of actions remains: is boycotting a debate and blocking people from that debate an effective way of convincing others of your opinion? Let’s not fool ourselves: we don’t have to respect opinions. Everyone is aware of opinions that they don’t really support or even despise from the bottom of their heart. The ideal liberal in that sense doesn’t really exist – there are some beliefs that you would rather see disappear than grow. However, the way to do this is not to banish or censor your opponents. On the contrary – let them join in the conversation so that they can honestly and openly make a fool of themselves.

The fact that as a left-wing person applying the boycott tactic, you lend strength to the conservative view that the ‘Left is authoritarian and can’t handle people who think differently’ is just one problem. The other problem is even more serious: by boycotting someone in the context of a debate and refusing to enter into conversation, you assign a certain power to their views without realising it. Long before the conversation has started, you are already making a concession: “The value and persuasiveness of what I think is probably not significant enough to compete against the person I’m going to debate with.”

So what is the result of this specifically in the context of the Groningen debate? Conservatives who say ‘I told you so’. Possibly valuable progressive ideas that are never expressed. In addition, this leads to a strengthening of the image of an ‘arrogant academic’ atmosphere on the left, where battles are fought with emotional blackmail rather than with strong ideas (or actions). And the negative icing on the cake: the person who is excluded from the conversation will go and spread their radical ideas elsewhere with a sense of validation, this time with no different perspectives that could influence their opinion.

However, I also understand that not everyone wants to seek out confrontation in debates. Some people value their safe space and have no desire to enter into an environment that they perceive as harmful. These days, many people believe that you should have the right to avoid people or statements that interfere with your self-awareness, identity or lifestyle. And I certainly don’t want to deny people that personal right. However, in the case of safe spaces, you also have to consider whether the ideas they are intended to protect you from will disappear in the long term. The danger remains, whether or not there is a safe space.

Progress can only be achieved through opposition and negation, said Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Progress always goes hand in hand with confrontation and growing pains. If you deny this process, the contradictions in a society continue to exist and will proliferate. It is up to us to examine these contradictions and to highlight them from as many different perspectives as possible.

As a result, people with ‘wrong opinions’ should actually be invited to the debate. If you feel that someone says crazy, unbelievable and indefensible things, bring them on. You will benefit far more from a constructive discussion than a boycott, if only to demonstrate to the viewer how ridiculous someone’s opinion is.


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