Political magazine editor Nathan Robinson criticized some conservative’s uninformed mode of argument in his speech at the University of Connecticut Wednesday which was scheduled at the same time a speech by conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro.
Robinson’s speech, titled “Ben Shapiro Is Not as Insightful as He Thinks He Is,” was planned by the UConn College Democrats as a direct response to the UConn College Republicans inviting Shapiro to speak.
“I don’t think there’s much value in attending (Shapiro’s) event because I know what he’s going to say, because I’ve watched a bunch of his speeches and they’re all the same,” Robinson said. “I think you should watch one of his speeches, if you can sit through it.”
Robinson’s animated speech was interspersed with similarly cheeky lines that elicited laughs from the crowd of around 100 students seated in the Konover Auditorium.
Despite the title of his speech, Robinson professed that “this really isn’t about Ben Shapiro.” Rather, Robinson used Shapiro as an example of the type of person who is not interested in having informed political discussions.
“If we put our intellects together, if we’re thoughtful and courageous in how to respond to noxious political figures like this, I think we can produce a persuasive counter to Ben Shapiro and perhaps render him, for the first time in his life, speechless,” Robinson said, prompting a chorus of applause from the audience as he concluded his speech.
Robinson encouraged those in attendance to seek earnest, civil conversations with those who have opposing viewpoints and are legitimately interested in discussing them.
“Pragmatically speaking, it can be more effective to try and explain to people why that speech is offensive, why we object to it and it’s cruel and harmful rather than making sure the speech isn’t heard,” Robinson said. “Generally…we benefit from trying to win people to our side.”
Robinson said people can defeat uninformed, prejudiced arguments by pointing out logical and factual errors in them.
“The the best answer I’ve come up with is by exposing everything they say for what it is, by zapping the force of that awful, painful catchphrase, ‘facts don’t care about your feelings’ by proving we’re the ones who care about the facts and, as a bonus, we also have feelings,” Robinson said citing Shapiro’s popular catchphrase.
In response to a popular criticism against liberals who wish to ban certain people from delivering speeches, Robinson said such speakers typically have arguments that should not be part of a civil debate at all.
“It’s not just not wanting to hear the other side, it’s because they believe certain issues should be beyond debate,” Robinson said, using a hypothetical debate about whether people of all races were human as an example. “Just entering into that dialogue….has the effect of presenting something as a live question that should not be a live question.”
Robinson said people like Shapiro thrive on the attention they receive from the reaction their controversial statements provoke.
“The moment we focus on him as an individual rather than drawing a contrast between our values and his values, the less we’re keeping the focus on where it should be, which is the people who suffer as a result,” Robinson said.
Stevie Della-Giustina, the president of the UConn College Democrats, said he felt the event went very well.
“I don’t agree with everything he said, but I think it's good to hear his opinion and contrast it with opinions that have been seen on this campus,” Della-Giustina said.
Jewel Okwuosa, a sixth-semester physiology and neurobiology major, said she was glad she attended the event.
“It was good to see people supporting the same views and standing up for equality and what’s right,” she said.
Courtney Haigler, a sixth-semester English major, said she enjoyed the atmosphere of the event, which was a stark contrast to the chaotic turn conservative reporter Lucian Wintrich’s speech took last semester.
“I loved the peaceful quality and the comfy-ness that enveloped the room,” she said. “I think that’s what real civil discourse is.”
Haigler said she thinks people with more conservative viewpoints could have learned something from attending the speech.
“I wish people who had opposing views would come and would have listened and developed a deeper sense of empathy and understand why we think what we think,” Haigler said.