Editorial: What is debatable?

Some things should be taken for granted

Editorial Board

Many people in the United States do not believe the Holocaust happened. According to the Anti-Defamation League, only 55% of Americans believe the recorded history of the Holocaust is accurate.

Does that mean that this awful episode of human history is in dispute? No. There is a mountain of primary evidence for this genocide. It is simply undeniable. 

With the advent of near universal use of the internet and online forums, the “marketplace of ideas” the concept that all ideas are equal, all should deserve to be argued and that the best ones will inevitably win over others has fully emerged. While in some ways the democratization of internet users’ ideas is productive, the transition from that online “marketplace” to the real world is entirely different, and the value that all ideas are equal can lead to marginalized identities being unjustly questioned.

This marketplace has an implied rule: since all ideas are equal, everything is up for debate. This claim has led to the upheaval of certain rightfully taboo subjects being put into the limelight. 

For example, the infamous “flat-earth theorists” who claim that the Earth is flat and that the government wants to keep this secret from us, for one reason or another. A more sobering example has also appeared as time has gone on, as we grow further and further from World War II: the Holocaust never happened. 

Over time, this trend of hyper-criticism has started to invade conversations on ethnic, gender and sexual identities.

In early 2017, in the midst of President Trump’s election, then-infamous far-right speaker Milo Yiannopoulos was forced to cancel a scheduled talk at the University of California’s Berkeley campus due to protests. This obstruction of speech posed an ominous threat to the American principle of free speech and provoked the question, how far is too far for speech?

Yiannopoulos was not simply an intellectual seeking a platform to express his ideas in the “marketplace.” He touted homophobic, transphobic, racist and sexist rhetoric that reflected the ideas of his audience. At the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee campus, Yiannopoulos showed a picture of a trans UW student in front of his audience. 

“Have any of you come into contact with this person?” he joked. “This quote unquote nonbinary trans-woman forced his way into the women’s locker rooms this year.” 

Ideas are not the only things that have become subject to universal criticism: people have become questioned, too. 

His statements were able to spread across the internet and reach a global audience. More and more people were coming into contact with his arguments, and when engaging and acting in the real world, those arguments came out through the growth of white nationalist movements. According to a Washington Post and ABC News survey in 2017, about 22 million Americans thought it was acceptable to hold white supremacist views, views that directly threaten people and lead to physical persecution. 

Not all ideas are the same. Everything under the sun is not up for debate. To echo Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s invocation of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” People of any identity should not have to argue over their existence. Existence is indeed self-evident. The rise of far-right movements and hatred somewhat stems from this dangerous trend that everything — including people are up for debate.