Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 12, No. 10. September 20th, 1949
It has been said that, without democracy, controversy could not exist.
This is nonsense.
The truth is, of course, that without controversy, democracy cannot exist. And that is why this paper has now, and will continue as long as it exists, a solid policy of allowing—no, encouraging—the expression of controversial views. If it ever lost that policy, then it might as well pack up and become a social Jottings magazine.
Students come to Victoria for all sorts of reasons; some nebulous, some frankly mercenary (more power to them), some few self-righteous and uplifting. But whatever they come here for, they should get more out of the place than an excellent grounding for a profession. Thinking has always been dangerous to indulge in. Why?
Because in the realms of controversy and speculation, complete certainty is not possible; accepted standards tend to be questioned where it is not possible to find an infallible answer; and because the very impossibility of certainty makes it certain that many people with the same facts will come to as many different conclusions, no one person can be sure that he is right—nor that he is wrong. Nor can he be sure that the traditional answer, the customary answer of society, is infallible. And the very situation which leads two people to different answers may lead both of them to doubt the absolute validity of some tenet of their society's faith. Those who cut loose into the heady realms of controversy find themselves equated with all kinds of political, religious, or social heresy.
Not that the accepted standards of society are inevitably wrong; that a thing is bad because it is old is no more valid than that it is bad because it is new. To oppose everything which pertains at the moment is as wrong-headed as to oppose everything because it didn't exist when grandpa was a lad.
But if authority must be allowed the right to oppose its antagonists, the sceptics, the doubters and the heretics must be allowed, too, to have their say. In the history of Victoria, many organisations which have preached and practised this have run foul of authority. The Debating Club and the Free Discussion Club and all the rest met the opposition of those who equated controversy with revolution.
Controversy is a responsibility which needs to be handled carefully—it can be social dynamite. But if there is one tradition which has settled in under the mock antique facade of Victoria in its hectic fifty years, it is just that—that controversy is not a right to be enjoyed, but a duty to be exercised by everyone who comes here.
And as long as "Salient" is "An Organ of Student Opinion" it will continue to allow the sort of controversy which is as necessary as breathing to any intellectually conscious man. The opinions expressed may be unpalatable, they may be unacceptable. But so long as they are honest expressions of opinion which come within the bounds of fair criticism, then "Salient" will provide space for them. If expression is ever forbidden because it is unpalatable, then not only "Salient", but all our vaunted way of life may as well be abandoned.