This is an article by Stephen Pinker (I'm a bit of a fanboy of him, I'll admit it) that asks an incredibly important question; are scary ideas worth discussing?
I highly, highly
suggest that you read the entire article before posting, because he goes on to make strong arguments for both sides of the debate. Also, I shouldn't have to make the disclaimer that only a few of those questions that he throws up there at the beginning are things that he actually believes (as far as I know from his works).
"In defense of dangerous ideas"
I think that to this board in particular I have definitely run into this brick wall before. Statements that I've made while playing devil's advocate have been shot down by some members not because of the factual content of the argument (okay, well, a lot more of my arguments actually have been shot down by hard facts) but because of the perceived possibilities of what that line of thinking might lead to. I've felt throughout a number of threads the tension between people who want to bring potential truths to light regardless of what they mean, and people who feel that the responsible thing is to not even consider the possibility because of the potential avenues that, if the statement is true, might be traversed that could lead to racism, sexism and classism.
Sometimes I get this feeling that for many members there is not a division between what is true and what actions those truths might lead to. I think for many people the fact that society and the individuals within it should not be sexist, racist, or classist translates into a belief that reality
can not be sexist, racist, or classist. They operate off the belief that equality or morality defines fact
and work from there. I think many people seem to oppose a claim like "women are born with a more advanced capability for social interaction than men" immediately because they believe it contradicts the universal "fact" that the sexes are equivalent, and then support the evidence against it, instead of making the conclusion the other way around. Obviously this isn't true of everyone, and quite often the opposing view actually does
have more supporting evidence from the start, I would even say that occurs in the majority of cases. What makes me think that people are not always basing their opinions off of such rational arguments is the fact that when I do play devil's advocate for a "dangerous idea" I seem to pretty quickly get labeled a sexist or fascist, if not explicitly then certainly implicitly.
The reason that I'm so fervent in devil advocacy is because I have enough faith in this community that the moral understandings are already evident among its members. The forum is undeniably academic and left-leaning, and appreciably insular to boot. For evidence of this, visit the democratic primary echo-box. I can trust that the guy on the other side of the argument does not believe that women shouldn't be allowed to be math professors and that black people shouldn't run for president, I think we're past that point. I don't think there's some latently sexist, racist, fascist bogeymen lurking around and just waiting for someone to make a point of fact that can be terribly misconstrued to advocate misogyny and apartheid. I like discussion in this place because that danger doesn't exist, whereas in other mediums, on other forums, there really is the possibility that someone could misinterpret me as suggesting that a rape victim "deserved it". I don't think that we have to worry about that here, or at least we shouldn't.