Monday, March 06, 2006

gerald solomon, lawrence summers, and the right to unpopular (and probably mistaken) opinions

The Supreme Court's upholding of the Solomon Amendment strikes me as the right conclusion, both as a matter of law and policy, although it leaves me with a rather empty feeling. I think it's right on the law, because the law schools wanted to have their principles (so to speak) and eat them too, and on the policy, because it seems bizarre to keep the military off campus during wartime so as to protest a policy that everyone knew the law schools disapproved of, anyway. The hypocrisy of the AALS, which argued for free speech but then tried to muscle law schools into following its own preferred position, made its stance especially weak.

The problem is that the policy that the military is seeking to protect--the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" or residual discrimination against homosexuals--makes little sense and is reportedly being ignored by officers in the field, anyway. Nor does any vital conservative principle seem to be at stake in the policy: it is perfectly logical to disapprove (or approve) of homosexuality without wanting to it to be used as a grounds for exclusion from activities it is not relevant to. That many other countries, notably Israel, have avowed homosexuals in their armed forces makes the argument that much weaker.

In short I see the decision in much the way that I saw the resignation of Lawrence Summers as Harvard President following his remarks about women and math/science ability. I think Summers had a right to his opinions, and I am sorry that (unlike the Solomon case) the forces of political correctness have at least temporarily silenced him. But I think his suggestion that women are inherently less capable of quantitative thought is highly improbable, there being numerous alternate explanations for the dearth of women scientists and mathematicians that society has hardly begun to explore. (My wife was taught quantitative analysis, at the same university Summers headed, by an instructor who used exclusively sports analogies: is there a necessary correlation between mathematical ability and an interest in baseball?) Moreover, as universities pretty much run on the natural sciences, the acceptance of Summer's views would consign them to a more or less indefinite second class status. Perhaps the saddest thing about Summer's resignation is that these issues may never be joined: everyone will continue to go about with his or her preconceived prejudices on the issue, and nothing very much will change.


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