In a comment to yesterday’s post on l’affaire Fluke-Limbaugh, I linked to a pair of blog posts by University of Rochester professor Steven Landsburg (sent my way by Dennis Mangan). In the first, Professor Landsburg wrote:
[W]hile Ms. Fluke herself deserves the same basic respect we owe to any human being, her position — which is what’s at issue here — deserves none whatseover. It deserves only to be ridiculed, mocked and jeered. To treat it with respect would be a travesty. I expect there are respectable arguments for subsidizing contraception (though I am skeptical that there are arguments sufficiently respectable to win me over), but Ms. Fluke made no such argument. All she said, in effect, was that she and others want contraception and they don’t want to pay for it.
To his credit, Rush stepped in to provide the requisite mockery. To his far greater credit, he did so with a spot-on analogy: If I can reasonably be required to pay for someone else’s sex life (absent any argument about externalities or other market failures), then I can reasonably demand to share in the benefits. His dense and humorless critics notwithstanding, I am 99% sure that Rush doesn’t actually advocate mandatory on-line sex videos. What he advocates is logical consistency and an appreciation for ethical symmetry. So do I. Color me jealous for not having thought of this analogy myself.
There’s one place where I part company with Rush, though: He wants to brand Ms. Fluke a “slut” because, he says, she’s demanding to be paid for sex. There are two things wrong here. First, the word “slut” connotes (to me at least) precisely the sort of joyous enthusiasm that would render payment superfluous. A far better word might have been “prostitute” (or a five-letter synonym therefor), but that’s still wrong because Ms. Fluke is not in fact demanding to be paid for sex. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) She will, as I understand it, be having sex whether she gets paid or not. Her demand is to be paid. The right word for that is something much closer to “extortionist”. Or better yet, “extortionist with an overweening sense of entitlement”. Is there a single word for that?
But whether or not he chose the right word, what I just don’t get is why the pro-respect crowd is aiming all its fire at Rush. Which is more disrespectful — his harsh language or Sandra Fluke’s attempt to pick your pocket? That seems like a pretty clear call to me.
Our second link was to Professor Landsburg’s next post (brilliantly titled “Contraceptive Sponges — how I wish I’d thought of that one), in which he examines, quite fairly and dispassionately, I think, the arguments for and against publicly subsidized contraception. All in all, there was nothing in either of these to object to in a society that claims to value healthy debate, I think.
But in today’s Best of the Web, James Taranto informs us that the president of Rochester University, Joel Seligman, was “outraged” to read Professor Landsburg’s opinion, and expressed his anger in an official denunciation on University letterhead.
We should hardly be surprised any more (after, for example, the pillorying of Lawrence Summers for expressing a perfectly reasonable hypothesis) to see such a response from the administration of an American university these days; departures from liberal orthodoxy are clearly unwelcome. (It seems fiitting, too, that this item should come along just a day after this comment in one of our recent posts on this topic.) No big deal here, really, as far as the tenured Professor Landsburg is concerned — though, as Mr. Taranto points out, this will give untenured faculty pause next time they think about weighing in on a public controversy with a heterodox political opinion. Mr. Taranto quotes Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds, who in a post of his own wrote:
“Seligman’s statement will have, and might as well have been intended to have, a chilling effect on the speech of faculty who are less eminent than Steven Landsburg.”
Professor Landsburg responded with another post, published yesterday, in which he reposts both a statement he made to the press (apparently an academic supporting Rush in this brawl was so newsworthy that he was besieged with press inquiries) and his letter to Joel Seligman.
All in all, worthwhile reading, I think, and I applaud Professor Landsburg for his even-handed and thoughtful approach throughout, which should be a model for us all (myself included).
P.S. After writing this post I went over to Lawrence Auster’s place to see if he had responded to our One-Eyed Man’s comments, and saw that he was all over this UR story as well.