In a recent speech reprinted in the Wall Street Journal, University of Pennsylvania law school professor Amy Wax discusses the importance of “logic, evidence, facts and substantive arguments” when debating public policy:
The proper response [to opposing opinions is] to engage in reasoned debate—to attempt to explain, using logic, evidence, facts and substantive arguments, why those opinions are wrong. This kind of civil discourse is obviously important at law schools like mine…. But academic institutions in general should also be places where people are free to think and reason about important questions….
In debating others, we should have higher standards. Of course, one has the right to hurl labels like “racist,” “sexist” and “xenophobic”—but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Hurling such labels doesn’t enlighten, inform, edify or educate. Indeed, it undermines these goals by discouraging or stifling dissent.
Democracy thrives on talk and debate, and it is not for the faint of heart. Offense and upset go with the territory; they are part and parcel of an open society…. It is also always possible that people we disagree with have something to offer, something to contribute, something to teach us. We ignore this at our peril.
The American way is to conduct free and open debate in a civil manner.