Thursday, November 08, 2012

Ideas are scary

Mike Munger posts about the Venezuelan government refusing to give approval for conference travel to an academic whose views were not sufficiently revolutionary. This immediately made me think of the US government's refusal to give permission for Cuban academics to come present papers at the Latin American Studies Association (though, unlike Venezuela, the Cuban government was fine with those professors coming here, which may have been sufficient proof to the Obama administration that they were all potential terrorists).

Ideas can be scary, and many governments want to suppress them, or at least discourage them. The odd part of all this is that we're talking about suppression of academics whose views are likely not terribly controversial to begin with. It's suppression for the sake of suppression.

UPDATE: Now el profesor Munger says the letter is a hoax, leaving only the U.S. government that's afraid of ideas.


Justin Delacour 8:41 AM  

"The odd part of all this is that we're talking about suppression of academics whose views are likely not terribly controversial to begin with."

First off, it's completely counter-productive for Venezuela to deny any academic the ability to travel to a conference. What I'm wondering, though, is if your point is really that academics in general don't hold views that are "terribly controversial." If so, I'd say that's a pretty positivistic conception of academia. The reality is that academics --including many leading ones-- offer "terribly controversial" viewpoints all the time. For example, while Milton Friedman was hugely influential within American economics departments, his views have always been viewed as very controversial outside his discipline and outside the United States. In fact, many views that are seen as mainstream within American economics departments are seen as quite controversial outside of it. So, for example, the standard economics textbook in the United States will present something about what's wrong with a minimum wage, despite the fact that most societies --including our own-- view the notion of getting rid of a minimum wage as a pretty controversial proposition.

And we could find plenty of leading political scientists whose views have been "terribly controversial" as well (independently of what you or I may think of their views). Many of the views of Samuel Huntington were clearly controversial. So to too were some of the views of, say, Jeanne Kirkpatrick. So too are those of, say, Kenneth Waltz or John Mearsheimer in the international relations sub-field. There's plenty of controversy in the views of academics.

Justin Delacour 2:31 PM  

Oh, and it looks like Munger has a "BEFORE THE JUMP UPDATE" now.

Munger wrote:

"Got an email saying that the letter is a hoax. So, don't go saying 'I read this on the internet, so it must be true!' It may not be. I'm going to leave it up, though for its truthiness value..."

It might be worthwhile to let your readers know that there's no verification that this actually happened.

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