Georgie De Mattos/Mustang News

Brandon Bartlett is an English sophomore and Mustang News conservative columnist. These views do not necessarily reflect the editorial coverage of Mustang News. 

In Aesop’s classic fable “The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey,” he leaves a valuable lesson for our society. No, it is not that we should kill our donkey (subtle political party joke), but that if we strive to please all, we will end up pleasing none.

However, there are many who would hide under the banner of tolerance advocating that all should be pleased.

But this is, frankly, impossible. Often times the desires of different individuals are mutually exclusive. We cannot have our cake and eat it too.

It is for this reason, and on this premise, that civil society was produced: a world in which people could maximize their liberty without it costing others their own.

This enlightenment principle culminated into an unfaithful interpretation of John Stuart Mill’s philosophy: Each ought to leave every individual either in the same state or in a better state than when one first encountered them.

And, at first, the idea of doing no harm seems like a very good thing. Would it not be great if everyone lived by this rule?

No. In fact, it would be quite disastrous.

By this logic, every time we do something as simple as drive in traffic, and thus make more traffic, we are doing something wrong, for we are leaving other drivers worse than when we found them; i.e. in more traffic. Likewise, when we take the last corn dog at Metro, and thus deprive someone else of a corn dog, we do them harm — actually, depriving someone of Metro food seems like a good thing, maybe even a moral imperative, but you get the point.

It is impossible to live in a way which never negatively affects others.

“Okay,” you might be thinking, “but people don’t just drive in traffic for the fun of it, they need to get somewhere. And that good would outweigh the extra couple of seconds that other drivers have to spend on the 101.”

Absolutely! But it still holds true that there are instances in which harming other people is, at the very least, justified.

The problem is that the modern “tolerance movement” or “politically correct culture” often, though certainly not always, operates as though doing someone harm is always wrong.

Take for instance, when University of Minnesota recently decided not to allow a moment of silence for 9/11 victims because it could lead to anti-Islamic sentiments, which could make the campus an “unsafe space,” in the sense that Islamic individuals may feel unwelcome. Or when students attempted to shut down an academic debate being held at Brown University about sexual assault because it might “invalidate some people’s experiences.”

In both cases a good is being pursued, whether paying respect to the dead or attempting to better understand sexual assault. However, since the mechanism for achieving these goals has the possibility of hurting someone in the process, people react negatively.

And these are not cherry-picked examples. With 40 percent of millennials saying that they would be OK with the government restricting speech that offends minorities, the stories are countless.

However, I must admit that there is a case to be made, though I would disagree with it, concerning the silencing of those who purposefully spread lies for the sake of further oppressing minority groups. Some people are going to believe the bogus statistics that Trump retweeted, and such propaganda does cause real damage.

And though I may not believe that the government should intervene in such an instance, I certainly understand the reasoning behind the desire.

Hence, to be as clear as possible, let us focus on the latter of the examples in which the contention was not outright offensiveness, but an “invalidation of one’s experience.”

Why is this problematic?

Because the truth rarely conforms to one’s experience. This is why we laugh at the senator who believed that a snowball could disprove climate change: Just because I haven’t seen or experienced something doesn’t mean it is not true.

And this is especially the case at an academic institution, where the very reason that you would pay for an education is because your experience may be inadequate or blatantly incorrect.

Whether it is the white male who believes his privilege did not contribute to his success, or the African American woman who sees systematic oppression as the only cause of her failure, people can be wrong.

And if we ever want to fix problems like sexual assault or systematic racism, we need to be able to foster open dialogue in which we can dig for truth. But this cannot and won’t be done until we realize that it is impossible to please everyone, and we admit that there are times in which offense is justified.

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