According to the American Association of University Professors (as reported by CNN), “In the last year, more than 100 incidents of targeted harassment against professors have been reported on college campuses.” These reactions have reached the level of actual death threats, so that some professors have been banned from campuses, so as not to expose the rest of the community to potential violence. This is not the kind of situation that would be rendered more secure by everyone carrying guns, since that would erase the distinction between the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” a distinction that would NOT become clearer once someone started shooting, since no one would know who started shooting first, or if it was a “bad guy” or “good guy” that started it. This is why, happy as I would be for permanent employment, I would never accept employment at a college or university that permitted any form of civilian “carry” on campus: a wild-eyed pack of posturing, untrained rubes with deadly weapons at the ready makes no one safer; it takes a special kind of stupid to imagine otherwise.
But here we find ourselves in a situation where professors are receiving enormous volumes of vicious, if not always credible, threats upon their very lives for the kinds of things they have said in public. How did all these poor little, anonymous (because the cowards are always anonymous), tragically butthurt babies come to decide that the legitimate response to the public expression of a reasoned conclusion (I avoid the vacuous notion of “opinion”) is a threat of violence or even death? Certainly the election of the “crypto”-fascist Trump has energized many white supremacist and neo-nazi groups and sympathizers, and silencing by way of the threat (or act) of violence has long been a favored technique of such people. Which brings us to the title of this post, which is the fallacy of the argumentum ad baculum, the “argument from the stick”: using threats of violence and other forms of intimidation to compel others to accept your position. Continue reading