I find myself annoyed at the groundswell of good wishes for John McCain after his diagnosis of glioblastoma…McCain is a war criminal and, more to the point. someone who as a politician has championed horrifying actions and been lousy on state commitment to public health…But ultimately what troubles me is the urge to send such well wishes to an utter stranger as it reinforces the notion that some lives are more important than others. There are lots of people with glioblastoma and who have died from it (including my mother twenty years ago)….
—San Diego State University Political Science Professor Jonathan Graubart on Facebook, prompting some calls for him to be fired, and others on campus to second his opinion.
Is this an Ethics Quote or an Unethical Quote? I could call it an Ethics Quote because it raises many ethical issues, and mere statements of opinions, even stupid and vicious ones, are not usually unethical in themselves. This quote strongly suggests that the speaker is unethical in than one respect; it is also, at very least, irresponsible in its context, which is that he is a teacher, and represents the institution.
Jonathan Turley flagged this episode, as he reliably does any time a professor comes under fire for controversial speech. As always, he supports his fellow academic:
“Graubart’s comments are hurtful and hateful. It is a reflection of the incivility that has taken hold of our social and political dialogue. It is always sad to see a fellow academic rush to the bottom of our national discourse. However, we have free speech and academic freedom to protect unpopular, not popular, speech. Popular speech does not need protection. Graubart is expressing his deep political and social viewpoint on social media. He should be able to do that just as his critics have a right to denounce his views.”
San Diego State University is a government institution, and thus subject to the First Amendment, in addition to the principles of academic freedom. However, even a state institution has a right to protect itself from harm. This isn’t just political speech; it is bona fide asshole speech, signaling that the speaker is not a trustworthy teacher, and that any school that would have someone this intolerant, doctrinaire, vile and contemptuous of kindness and compassion educating, aka indoctrinating students isn’t trustworthy either. Universities, public or not, should be able to insist on a minimal level of professionalism from faculty in their public behavior and pronouncements so the institution isn’t permanently discredited, embarrassed, and harmed.
Here is Graubart’s whole Facebook rant:
I find myself annoyed at the groundswell of good wishes for John McCain after his diagnosis of glioblastoma and have been thinking through why. A great line from Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem comes to mind regarding the valuing of elite lives over ordinary lives:
“There are more than a few people, especially among the cultural elite, who still publicly regret the fact that Germany sent Einstein packing, without realizing that it was a much greater crime to kill little Hans Cohn from around the corner, even though he was no genius.”
This analogy should not be interpreted too strictly. McCain is certainly no Einstein and I don’t mean just on brains. Einstein had very appealing humanist instincts, as a socialist, antiwar, anti-imperialist, and anti-statist Zionist. McCain is a war criminal and, more to the point. someone who as a politician has championed horrifying actions and been lousy on state commitment to public health. So dying or not, he’s a risible public figure (I have no idea what he is like on the personal level and don’t care).
But ultimately what troubles me is the urge to send such well wishes to an utter stranger as it reinforces the notion that some lives are more important than others. There are lots of people with glioblastoma and who have died from it (including my mother twenty years ago). I would much rather read random good wishes to contemporary little Hans Cohns than to politicians.
Let’s see now…
- The comment is, to be blunt about it, stupid. Wishing a public figure well isn’t valuing his life over others. It’s valuing any life that one learns is in peril. I read notices every other day on Facebook from friends with parents, relatives, old friends and beloved pets facing health issues. I wish them all well, and most of them are strangers. That doesn’t mean that I value their lives more than others. It means I am capable of compassion. This guy teaches young men and women with powers of analysis like that?
- John McCain was not a “war criminal” for fighting in the Vietnam war. He was a citizen who risked his life because his country determined that military engagement needed to be fought. He risked his life, spent years in a Vietnam prison, and was tortured. Calling a soldier a war criminal is signature significance for a biased, arrogant jerk. As my father, a critic of the Nuremberg war crimes trial, pointed out, if the U.S. had lost, our generals would have been convicted of war crimes. Pacifists like Graubart feel superior to military heroes like McCain because they never have to face real international dilemmas, just abstract ones. Then sneer at those who don’t have that luxury, from the safety of the faculty lounge.
- Here we have the kind of progressive who should make decent progressives with a soul want to hide their head under a sack. If you don’t support government funded health care, then we should be thrilled when you die. This is the Left’s mindset in its darker places: any position other than its approved one is evidence of evil. If you don’t agree with them, they want you dead, and are amazingly candid in saying so. I don’t want them dead, but anyone who thinks that way is a rotten human being by definition. They also are sporting the mindset of totalitarians, who actually feel that those who disagree with their policies should be killed, imprisoned or “re-educated.” The Graubarts are just one step away from the Eichmanns.
- Graubert’s utter incivility and lack of the basic instincts of sympathy and caring make him an ethics pollutant in a university setting. He is supposed to model ethical conduct, and instead he is condemning it.
In sum: what an asshole.
My reactions to the discovery that San Diego State has a professor who proudly and openly expresses such unethical crud are 1) I wonder how many other professors like that are at the school? and 2) “Son, here is one college you are not going to apply to.” Any other responsible parent would have to react similarly, unless that parent wants to make sure Jr. comes back from college as an arrogant, mean-spirited leftist.
Should a college, even a state school, be able to fire a professor who announced on social media that white students should be purged from the face of the Earth?
Should a college, even a state school, be able to fire a professor who advocates taking away the black vote, relegating women to subservience to men, or allowing child rape?
Should a college, even a state school, be able to fire a professor who advocated rounding up illegal immigrants and shooting them?
Universities exist to civilize students and pass along the values of American culture and society, including basic human decency. Firing a Graubert is nothing more than removing a teacher who has proven himself irresponsible and untrustworthy, to the detriment of the students, university and its reputation.
Pointer: Jonathan Turley