Walk-out supporters disrupt VC’s learning environment

In Katharine Gripp’s op-ed “Epstein audience offered skewed info on fossil fuels” (Miscellany News, 04.04.2013) she writes, “others have written more knowledgeably of—and can more lucidly explain—Epstein’s lack of qualifications as an ‘energy researcher.’” Nonetheless, I would like to respond to her piece, because it contains an error that knowledge and lucidity in others can conceal: ad hominem arguments.

Alex Epstein’s “pretty, made-up, high-heeled assistant” is Brittney, my classmate during a demanding summer conference at Clemson University. MICA had to fly her in at the last minute because all of our members, including myself, felt too intimidated to host the lecture.

Brittney is an undergraduate in philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, a non-traditional student, a highly successful activist, and a hard-worker for two think tanks. She missed a day of classes and volunteered her time for the benefit of Gripp and all of us.

No mention is made in Gripp’s op-ed about Divest VC’s use of Dick Cheney masks at the event, which they later photographed and called “Dick Pics.” Could it be that Epstein was bored of their childishness and that he was more interested in the matter at hand?

According to a National Review piece called “What’s the Matter with Vassar?” by Stanley Kurtz (which made it on the Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web,” got over 1,000 Facebook likes and was one of the site’s most commented articles): “The real takeaway from the [Alex Epstein] video is that, agree or disagree, the dreaded Epstein laid out a perfectly reasonable case for the importance of fossil fuels and the dangers of putting the industry that produces them out of business without an economically viable substitute. The notion that a talk like this is out of place at an institution of higher education is pernicious. If anything, students desperately need to hear Epstein’s side of the story.”

Thankfully, many came to support the Vassar Loves Fossil Fuels campaign. One father and son came over two hours from New Jersey. The son goes to a community college; he loves learning about energy, but sadly thousands of people may now think Vassar is against this. VLFF, on the other hand, is driven by a love of learning. Another group that came to back VLFF included the NY Heroes Society, led by Robert Begley. On Gripp’s topic of world hunger, Begley wrote for CIP: “Epstein gave an example of Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book, The Population Bomb, where he claimed that the entire world was on verge of starvation. With today’s 7 billion people…the issue of world hunger has been substantially solved, mainly due to the energy revolution…In other words, the oil industry solved world hunger! That was the first time I ever heard that explanation, especially on a college campus.”

If you want to understand the debate, watch Epstein’s full lecture on YouTube and read Kurtz’ two articles on Vassar, now a cautionary tale about the fanaticism of the divestment movement. Kurtz has also posted a video of an info session at Tufts University hijacked by divestment activists. A father yelled at them to great applause. Almost the same day as this incident, Vassar’s campaign also flouted the rights of an audience, including MICA members. In Gripp’s lingo, I had to occupy one of the least worthy positions in the room so I could attend without confrontation: the back.

That being said, Ayn Rand-studied celebrators of industry and capitalism should disdain NRO’s defeatism. Forbes columnist Wendy Milling praised our event as “important and highly commendable” but disapproved of Kurtz’ tone, writing to me in an email, “Notice how his story paints conditions on college campuses as literally impossible. And why fight the impossible? Things are just terrible, out of control, college campuses are hopeless. Doom.” Milling is right. It is important to remember that Vassar has hope. As American Enterprise Institute anti-divestment scholar Dr. Mark Perry wrote to us, “Thanks for your courage and efforts on an important issue, you’re making a difference.” Stories like ours will influence the debate as long as divestment is an issue. Stay strong. Much is possible (R.I.P. Margaret Thatcher).

And what did I learn from Alex Epstein?

As Jane Fonda said: “We have to listen to each other even when we don’t agree, even when we think we hate each other. We have to listen to each other’s narratives, not interrupt defensively or with hostility, but…open our hearts and listen with empathy.” As we see the public photo of Divest VC stealing Epstein’s poster and posing with it, fists raised, they should listen.


—Julian Hassan ‘14 is a Cognitive Science major.

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