“My identity has nothing to do with what is right or wrong.”
A Utah high school debate team lost a competitive round for quoting conservative commentator Ben Shapiro and clinical psychologist-turned self-help guru Jordan Peterson. The thinkers quoted, the judge explained, are “racist.”
Layton High School senior Michael Moreno and an unnamed partner were debating the issue of immigration. The motion in question was, “The federal government should substantially remove restrictions on legal immigration,” and Moreno’s team were arguing against it, ie. in favor of state-imposed restrictions. The event was organized and hosted by Arizona State University.
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That the discussion was not to be your standard Oxford debate became clear at the outset. Moreno told The Daily Wire (Shapiro’s own right-leaning outlet) that the opposing team had opted to argue their case in the form of a “slam poem.” The poem, according to Moreno, didn’t present a case in favor of loosening immigration laws so much as it seek to disqualify the perspective of Moreno and his partner, both being white males, from debating matters of “fairness.”
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“We argue that this is bad for debate as it’s unfair to us, that we came here as the negative to argue against substantially reducing on legal immigration, not their slam poem,” Moreno said.
In his turn, Moreno took aim at the other team’s appeal to identity politics. He quoted Shapiro’s hard stance against the moral subjectivity that inherent to any argument-by-identity. “Evil things are still evil even if I’m a white, well-off, religious man and good things are still good even if I’m a white, well off religious man… my identity has nothing to do with what is right or wrong,” Shapiro said last year in a speech at the University of Connecticut.
Moreno then quoted Peterson, another sworn enemy of postmodernism.
“It goes with the idea of class guilt, because your group membership is the most important thing. If your group at some point in the past did something reprehensible-which of course every group has done-then you’re de facto responsible for that,” the quote went.
According to Moreno, the judge cut the round short at this point. Shapiro and Peterson, the judge explained, are “racists,” and invoking their quotes violates the debate’s prime rule: Don’t be racist. The judge elaborated that to suggest that identity is immaterial to evidentiary discussions is a “white supremacist” line, as is the anti-identitarian position expressed in the quotes.
Moreno objected to judge’s statements (while secretly taping the back-and-forth). “They say we can’t talk about ‘fairness’… because we’re white. Again, don’t misunderstand what we’re saying — all we’re saying is, don’t identify me as what my group did in the past,” Moreno said, as the discussion turned into a three-way verbal spat between the two teams and judge. Moreno repeated several times that he and his partner consider racism to be “horrible,” but took issue with collective blame being attached to them just because of their skin color.
“This argument is like saying, ‘identity politics is inherently bad,'” the judge summed up. “How is that OK?”
The judge declared that Moreno’s team lost the round.
Moreno took the matter to the directors of the event organizers, who told him, according to The Daily Wire, that while they may have a “legitimate gripe,” the challenge was to debate before that particular judge. Having failed to persuade him, the Utah duo had to accept his ruling.
The incident exhibits what Shapiro once described as the left’s continuous effort to shrink the Overton Window of legitimate conversation, ousting to the realms of “the unacceptable” any thinker who breaks even slightly from progressive orthodoxy. While Shapiro is an unapologetic conservative, Peterson is a much more centrist thinker who offers a philosophy that could, on its merits, appeal to some the left, too. But the Canadian’s refusal to espouse postmodernism and identity politics has rendered him in the minds of progressives unacceptable (if not downright Hitler-esque).
And with the circle of acceptability ever shrinking on the left, the case of the Utah pair seems like a perfect synecdoche to the disappearance of real debate.