Recently the American Political Science Association debated at length whether to hold its 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans. Gay and lesbian activists sought to have the site moved due to Louisana's stringent bans against gay marriage. It is viewed by many - a great many - of political scientists that this is an issue beyond debate. The Association in the end decided to keep the meeting as planned in New Orleans, but also made siting considerations part of its official mandate. In particular, in the future it will seek to "engage with public entities" in discussion about policies that may be of concern to some number of political scientists.
This raises an interesting question of immediate concern: next year's annual meeting will be held in Toronto, Canada (based on an exceedingly loose interpretation of what the word "America" means in the Association's title). Canada's speech laws do not extend protections to speech that can be construed by some to be offensive. For instance, it is possible that its anti-discrimination laws could be construed not to protect speech questioning the legitimacy of gay marriage. Thus, it's not clear that some members of the Association can assume that they can fully debate in public the issue of its 2012 siting without fear of prosecution. Or, to refer to a current case, its laws have been construed to permit prosecution of criticisms of violent actions by Islamic extremists, exemplified in the prosecution of Mark Steyn for his criticisms of aspects of Islam. Should not the A.P.S.A. immediately "engage with public entities" in order to ascertain whether all speech will be protected at the 2009 annual meeting?
Perhaps less obviously related, but even more immediately of concern is this year's choice of plenary speaker by the Political Theory section of A.P.S.A., to be held in several weeks' time in Boston. The Association's choice is Slavoj Zizek. If known at all, he is the author of intentionally vague and obscure books that tend to excite people who like vague and obscure books. However, recently Zizek gave some very plain answers in an interview with the Guardian, and it is rather amazing to me that an Association that can expend so much energy agonizing over whether to site its annual meeting in New Orleans can pay no attention whatsoever to statements by a plenary speaker who had some of the following answers to the following questions:
G: Which living person do you most admire, and why?
SZ: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the twice-deposed president of Haiti. He is a model of what can be done for the people even in a desperate situation.
G: What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
SZ: Indifference to the plights of others.
G: What do you owe your parents?
SZ: Nothing, I hope. I didn't spend a minute bemoaning their death.
G: What or who is the love of your life?
SZ: Philosophy. I secretly think reality exists so we can speculate about it.
G: What is the worst job you've done?
SZ: Teaching. I hate students, they are (as all people) mostly stupid and boring.
G: What has been your biggest disappointment?
SZ: What Alain Badiou calls the 'obscure disaster' of the 20th century: the catastrophic failure of communism.
G: What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
SZ: That life is a stupid, meaningless thing that has nothing to teach you.
G: Tell us a secret.
SZ: Communism will win.