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Ben Shapiro: As a matter of fact

Despite his political differences with Ben Shapiro, columnist Michael Whittaker will attend Shapiro's event this coming week. (Wikimedia Commons)

For the more wizened and jaded among Stanford student politicos, the reaction to Ben Shapiro’s imminent appearance has been unsurprising. It’s now become a cliche: Republicans bring a speaker further right than Barack Obama to campus, leftist activists claim this to be an affront to basic decency and an existential threat to some shibboleth, and much handwringing ensues.

In this particular case, it is difficult to imagine Ben Shapiro as an existential threat to anyone; it is not rationality but fear of it that prompts such visceral reactions to the fast talking podcaster, Harvard-trained lawyer, founder of ‘The Daily Wire’ and husband of a doctor. If you find such a man objectionable, or merely want to pass judgment for yourself, listen to him, question him and challenge him on Nov. 7. If you’re a student, you don’t need a ticket. Just come.

I disagree with Ben Shapiro on many things. I think his stance on foreign policy is overly aggressive. I think he greatly overestimates the value of religion. He has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to rap music.

He’s wrong on these issues … or maybe I am. How strongly either of us feel about these things is not relevant; if we have mutually exclusive claims, one of us must be incorrect. If we have a mutual interest in discovering the truth, whatever it may be, the only way to resolve such differences is to look at each other’s facts. Will a foreign intervention save or cost lives? Is there a creator? Is a particular aspect of our culture helpful or harmful? These questions have right and wrong answers and wrong answers encourage bad choices. Truth orients us properly and must be recognized as a value in its own right.

Feelings have their place: they motivate us toward action. Emotion acts as a lightning calculator, gauging what is good or bad around you, performing an estimation of what you stand to gain or lose, directing your actions accordingly. But feelings are imprecise. How many times in your life have you felt wounded as a result of a misconception, or miscommunication? How many times have you displaced anger or sadness from someone who held power over you onto an undeserving but less dangerous outlet? How many times have you overreacted?

If feelings are our standard and no objective check exists, how are we to tell crocodile tears from the genuine article? My feelings say yours are asinine; which of us is right? Do you say I am outnumbered, or that the depth of my feeling is dwarfed by the intensity of yours? Is truth then a subjective vacuum to be filled by the shrieking of whichever mob is the largest and the loudest? 

No. What is is, and what’s not is not. That axiom is the basis of our academy, of our civilization, and our survival. It is our antidote to that nightmarish fever dream of force and feeling so desperately clung to by those terrified of a world where the strength of a syllogism matters but their feelings don’t. Whatever else we may disagree on there is one matter on which Shapiro and I are in full alignment. Facts don’t care about your feelings. So long as human beings must live with one another “I feel” can never trump “I think.”

Contact Michael Whittaker at mwhittak ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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