Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On free speech, today.

This time around, I agree with Jonathan Jansen's column. Not fully, but I would go along with the basic thrust of his argument: there is not enough deep debate on public issues today in South Africa.

I am however surprised at the generalisations in Jansen's collumn, given the fact that he rants the 'lack of' deep intellectual discourse at universities. He makes another point of interest,

'’n Universiteit, anders as ’n kerk, moet ’n plek wees waar idees aangebied, uitgeruil, verdedig en uitgedaag kan word. ’n Kampus moet ’n veilige ruimte skep waar mededingende ideologieĆ« aangehoor kan word.'  ( a University, unlike a church, must be a place where ideas are presented, defended and challenged. a Campus must create a safe space where competing ideologies are heard/aired)

For him a church is (by definition) a space where we let go of our intellectual abilities and simply accept everything, 'in faith', whilst a university is a space, where there is suppose to be a freeflow of ideas. At another speech, after listening to Jansen, I wondered that perhaps his glaring ignorance on what is happening inside some churches and amongst some church people, apart from his own evangelical fundamentalist group, is sad. On the other hand, at least he, as a leading academic and principal at a university, is suppose to know that the contestation of ideologies even at a university, takes place in a particular socio-historical context and political context. By its nature, despite modernist myths of the objective, rational scientist, it is heated and emotional. The current shift in the academic landscape is contested; it is a struggle and Jansen is part of that struggle.

However, he has a point if he argues that part of the current strategy within the elite classes, dominating institutions like the academia ( and the church), is to silence dissent and that this silencing strategy has to be faced head on. I agree that, the dearth of intellectual debate opens up space for demagogues to run amok. We will only have ourselves to blame, where facism reigns supreme.
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