The Emory Whig has billed itself as a platform for free and open expression, but it shouldn’t be afforded much space within Emory’s marketplace of ideas. Why? Not because the paper promotes controversial ideas, but because it does so ineffectively. The paper embraces hyperbole for hyperbole’s sake, which undermines the conversations it purportedly aims to raise.
It’s possible to run a conservative student journal, which the Whig claims to be, without making conservatism an ideological laughingstock. For example, in Whig Editor-in-Chief Robert Schmad’s first article, “Don’t Have Sex,” he pays homage to terrorist Ted Kaczynski and dismisses non-Christian marriages as less than ideal.
Schmad and the Whig are not off to a great start.
Schmad’s article doesn’t even commit to its own overwrought headline. He includes a disclaimer that “Don’t Have Sex” is intended to be “hyperbolic,” effectively conceding the clickbaityness of his content. He then adds that one should “definitely have sex, but only within the context of a stable (and ideally Christian) marriage.”
This line is little more than an ill-advised quip meant to stir the pot, and it doesn’t stimulate any meaningful debate. I don’t think it’s puritanical to argue that jokes rooted in the violent history of Christian supremacism and conquest do not belong in a serious publication, no matter the intended audience, as they can cause even good-faith readers to stop reading.
Schmad also begins his article with a play on the beginning of Kaczynski’s “Industrial Society and Its Future,” better known as the “Unabomber Manifesto.”
In the document, Kaczynski argues that industrial society cannot be reformed and that humans would be better off without it. He dismisses leftism as a masochistic and totalitarian product of modern excess, writing that leftists “will use [technology] to oppress everyone else if they ever get it under their own control.” He cites the emergence of political correctness in the academic sphere as an example of this phenomenon.
Readers who know about Kaczynski won’t laugh at Schmad’s allusion to him. The Unabomber mailed explosives to university researchers, leaving three dead and 23 injured. His wanton disregard for others destroyed families and endangered children.
So while we should condemn Kaczynski’s actions, we shouldn’t just dismiss his ideas or write about them flippantly. He continues to play an active role in the contemporary anarchist movement, and his writings foreshadowed the emergence of “incels,” shorthand for “involuntary celibates,” in online culture. Those facts make him worthy of thoughtful examination, not tongue-in-cheek references.
Nuanced conversations about religion, sex and terrorism are all worth having, but the Whig isn’t interested in that kind of discourse. Instead, Schmad pairs a deliberately misleading headline with an edgy, context-free lede, only to bravely blaze on with his own Kaczynski-esque argument, leaving even his most sympathetic readers behind.
I suspect that those at the Whig will dismiss my critique as joyless. But publications that purport to promote meaningful dialogue must balance humor with empathy. Otherwise, they will only worsen existing divides. Provocateurs reap the angst they sow.
Articles that joke about terrorists and religious superiority won’t create an “on-campus culture of free speech and good faith political discourse.” If the Whig wants to be taken seriously, it will have to take itself seriously first.
Isaiah Sirois (19C) previously served as the Wheel’s managing editor in 2019.