February 15

RCL #2.3: Two Deliberation Articles

Article 1: My Thoughts on Collective Punishment

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Back in the third grade, I vividly remember one morning in which several of my fellow classmates were loudly talking over the teacher. I was not involved in this rude behavior, instead trying to focus on my work. Regardless, our teacher had enough of our antics, and decided to give us extra homework as a punishment. We all went silent, and I was especially shocked when I saw that I was given the same worksheet that all of the “bad” kids were getting. I felt a sudden surge of disgust go through my mind, and my then nine-year-old self simply could not stand it. I remember breaking down in tears at this perceived injustice, but at that point, the teacher was at his limit, and sent me to the principal’s office for my reaction.

Even back then, I absolutely hated the idea of blanket discipline; the only reason I was given extra homework was due to simply being in that class full of loud kids, a classic case of guilt by basic association! In the decade since my personal experience, my philosophy on the matter has not changed a notch, and to put it bluntly, I believe collective punishment needs to die. This is why I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I read the above article, which stated that only seven Beta-Theta-Pi student members were ultimately charged for the hazing case of Tim Piazza. However, the “bigger-picture” outcome still remains to be seen: whether or not fraternities should be banned, if not highly-regulated. Obviously, I can only hope that individuals, not collective groups or organizations, are held responsibly in the grand scheme of things.

Article 2: The eventual backlash against backlash

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In this article, it is states that universities are unlikely to completely end fraternities, citing the revenue they brings in, the post-graduation opportunities they provide students, as well as the possibility of
“underground” organizations being established if school-sanctioned ones are banned. However, I feel that this article is missing one very simple, yet very key reason why a total shutdown of Greek life probably cannot happen: students will be pissed.

Going back to my personal experience in which I was punished with extra homework for behavior I was not involved in, I remember that this was a small classroom comprised of about fifteen little kids, and one “big and scary” teacher. As such, while many of my classmates back then may have been angry about it, there was not much we could do. However, if something on a much larger scale, such as the potential ban of Greek life, were to affect thousands of adult college students, there is no doubt in my mind that the backlash would be enormous. Protests of all sorts would likely erupt, making it more feasible to simply keep the status quo, rather than risk upsetting such a large amount of students and disrupting the university’s basic functions.


February 8

Civic Issues #2: Poland’s Controversial New Law

ARTICLE LINK: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/01/world/europe/poland-israel-holocaust-law.html

This past Thursday, the Polish Senate had passed a bill which would make any public speech suggesting that their nation was guilty of executing people as part of the Holocaust illegal. If their president, Andrzej Dula, agrees to sign this into law, even referring to the likes of Auschwitz as a “Polish death camp” could get one thrown in prison. While finding these terms offensive is a very popular opinion in modern-day Poland, as with many things deemed offensive, the debate lies within whether or not it should be labeled as “hate speech”, and in turn banned.

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Poland’s controversial proposal has not only sparked debate between supporters and those opposing of the bill, but has also put them at odds with other nations, namely the United States and Israel. The latter’s Prime Minister to Poland has spoken out against such a law, stating concerns that it could be a precursor to Holocaust denial. Israel has even delayed a diplomatic visit from a Polish official in response. Similarly, the U.S. has also denounced the legislation, believing it goes against the core principles of democracy.

My thoughts on all of this? Although I am non-practicing and admittedly a religious skeptic, I am ethnically Jewish. Naturally, as most others should be, I fully condemn the actions of the Nazis against not just my people, but many other innocent civilians as well, and can only hope that something as atrocious as the Holocaust never happens again. I am also an unabashed supporter of Israel, believing that the Jews have every right to their own state and territory. However, above all else, I am a proud American, and a strong believer in the Bill of Rights. As such, I cannot condone what the Polish government is currently trying to do.

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While I am aware that Poland was invaded and controlled by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, I will own up to being somewhat unsure on how much involvement the Polish themselves had on orchestrating the Holocaust, other than the fact that several concentration camps were stationed there. If others are similarly uncertain about who is truly guilty here, I can definitely understand why this would be an incredibly hot-button issue in Poland. However, regardless of how little or how much a role the Poles played in the extermination of Jews, it still does not change my mind on my staunch opposition to their President signing the Senate’s proposed bill.

From a practical standpoint, a law criminalizing this type of speech is simply incompatible with a twenty-first century democracy. When one looks at totalitarian nations such as North Korea, they often hear horrific stories of citizens being executed for stepping even slightly out of line. Although I am aware that “slippery slope logic” is fallacious, and that the signing of this legislation would not necessarily mean Poland will become the next crazy dictatorship, the idea of imprisoning someone over referring to Auschwitz as a “Polish death camp” is quite disconcerting to me. I mean, imagine if someone got in trouble for saying something like that by accident in a speech? Sure, people may be offended, but in my opinion, that is not nearly enough to warrant years of one’s life being taken away by a prison sentence.

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Even in the scenario that the Polish were indeed responsible in aiding the Nazis in the Holocaust, I would still oppose the proposal to ban speech suggesting their involvement. True, the government wants to protect the country’s reputation, but this may only be a short-term solution, quickly putting a band-aid over potential slander. In the long run, however, Poland could severely damage their relations with other countries for erasing any mention of their involvement in such a horrific event. This has already been seen with the responses of both Israel and the United States, and I can only imagine how much further things will be strained between Poland and those two if their President actually signs the bill.

Whether it be an individual or an entire country, no one likes to admit that they made a poor choice or involved in a wrongdoing, but the reality is, everyone makes mistakes, and nobody is perfect. The level of overall Polish involvement in the Holocaust may indeed be up for debate, but debate is a key component of a free, democratic society, even if it means disagreement. In discussing such a touchy topic, rather than suppressing it, Poland can better learn from their potential missteps, just as an individual grows from their mistakes.