Editor’s Note: In Defense of Manny Thompson
by Brandon Camhi
Manny’s rejection of Provost Etchemendy’s invitation for a meeting and Manny’s call for “violent resistance” were misguided at best. However, I think many of my classmates are also misguided when they criticize Manny and others by claiming that it is always a good idea to engage in dialogue. It is not. In fact, Manny should be commended for having the courage to act in a manner that is internally consistent with his worldview, regardless of what you think of his underlying assumptions (a debate I will leave to others).
Manny believes, with some validity I might add, that he is at a serious power disadvantage relative to Stanford as an institution. History has shown us that it is sometimes not a good idea to negotiate when you are at a significant disadvantage. Let me use an example that many of my conservative friends will understand. During the 1970s, the United States and the Soviet Union negotiated a series of arms control agreements, ushering in the era of detente. However, by the end of the decade, many believed America was at a significant strategic disadvantage relative to the Soviets. Therefore, when President Reagan took office, he initially rejected calls to negotiate and instead built America’s strength. Eventually, after bolstering America’s military might, Reagan negotiated with the Soviets and won key concessions from them. Historians will continue to debate the factual merits of this narrative, but it is accepted as gospel by many of the same people who would fault Manny for declining to engage in dialogue.
Of course there are many big differences between the current situation and arms control. However, there are some parallels between the story of Reagan and the Soviets and Manny’s statements that marginalized voices “have been uplifted like they haven’t in recent Stanford history and this is seen as a threat.” First, just as Reagan did not negotiate with the Soviets while in a weak position, Manny is correct in assessing the power of a collective voice arguing against perceived injustice on campus. Uplifted and unified voices, just like a stronger U.S. military, lead to a more advantageous negotiating position. There are times when it is the correct move to avoid negotiations and Manny may have seen the current state of affairs on campus as one of those times. Second, soaring rhetoric can be important for bolstering a position. Reagan called the Soviets an “Evil Empire”; Thompson has called Stanford “evil”. I personally do not share this view of our school, but I cannot dismiss Manny’s view as irrational because it is internally consistent with a worldview shaped by his own experiences.
I do not wish to establish concrete rules for when to enter dialogue and when to avoid discussion. However, I do wish many of my peers on Yik Yak and other forms of social media would pause and really think through Manny’s words before engaging in criticism. There is plenty in his actions to be angry at, yet I cannot help but admire his courage, grit, and internal consistency.
-Brandon Camhi, Editor-in-Chief