Teaching people not to think

A new book has chronicled three decades of censorship on America’s college campuses, prohibiting discussions of politically incorrect ideas. Freedom of speech is now held in historically low regard in our educational institutions, according to Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and author of Unlearning Liberty. The result is that it has made us all “a little bit dumber.” Tim Black’s lengthy and excellent interview with the author appeared in today’s Spiked:

Unlearning Liberty

…Freedom of thought is no longer installed at the centre of the academy; it’s been relegated to the margins. It is not just the students who are trained to believe that there are things of which they must never speak; faculty members are, too… The result of three decades’ worth of campus censorship, from the politically correct speech codes of the 1980s and 1990s to the anti-harassment dictata of today, has been chilling.

Lukianoff tells me of a recent survey conducted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities: ‘Out of 24,000 students who were asked the question, “Is it safe to hold unpopular positions on campus?”, only 35 percent of students strongly agreed. But, when broken down, the stat indicates something even worse. Forty percent of freshmen strongly agreed, but only 30 percent of seniors.’ In other words, students unlearn freedom of speech during their studies. ‘Even worse, only 16 per cent of university faculty strongly agreed with this statement. It’s not even a particularly strong statement, and if we’ve reached a point where only 16 percent of faculty strongly agree with it, then we’re doing something wrong.’

How has this happened? How has censorship come to play such a prominent role within the academy? In attempting to answer this, it is impossible to ignore the therapeutic turn in society at large, captured in embryo in Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism (1979). In brief, the robust, trailblazing individual of American legend had, by the late twentieth century, been reconceived as fragile and in need of external help and protection. Campus censorship plays upon this theory of the vulnerable individual, which, as Lukianoff says, presupposes a very ‘weak idea of what people are capable of coping with’. It is this belief that certain words and opinions might be too hurtful to young, vulnerable people which, in the eyes of the censors, justifies campus regulation of speech. Censorship even comes to present itself as the right thing to do, so much so that, according to Lukianoff, ‘people much too readily give the moral highground to those who are pro-censorship’.

The article goes on to explain the importance of free speech and how it used to be considered central to academic life. As the 1957 Supreme Court ruling stated: “Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise, our civilisation will stagnate and die.”

In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill wrote disparagingly of the society in which truths go unquestioned, certain views unchallenged, beliefs untested: “Where there is a tacit convention that principles are not to be disputed, where the discussion of the greatest questions which can occupy humanity is considered to be closed, we cannot hope to find that generally high scale of mental activity which has made some periods of history so remarkable.’”

With our educational system teaching people to believe that there are certain things you cannot say and discourages people from engaging in intellectual debates, it’s not suprising that not only are people today unable to debate or hear other’s arguments, but it has reinforced a hyperpolarization of public debates, Lukianoff wrote:

…[I]f you surround yourself with people you agree with, you tend to become much more certain, and in some cases much more radical in your beliefs, whether conservative, liberal or neither. And you tend, therefore, to have a polarised understanding of where the other side is coming from. And that’s a big problem in the US today…. With rigorous debate discouraged throughout higher education, and people seeking out only those they already agree with, it is unsurprising that many find it difficult to explain why what they believe to be right is right. After all, they have never had to test their beliefs. And the inability to explain why we are right ‘makes us even more emotional and hostile when anything questions our certainty’, says Lukianoff – hence the shrill, overemotional inarticulacy of so much public discourse.

11 responses to “Teaching people not to think

  1. The last paragraph sums up the situation well, I think.

  2. Spot on, Paul….the last sentence even moreso.

  3. It is Very Spooky that the generation that detested “The Man” and believed that our society was forcing “Mind Control” over their thoughts is NOW the same people who wish to control the thoughts and speech of others…

  4. “…many find it difficult to explain why what they believe to be right is right. After all, they have never had to test their beliefs.”

    Not for those of us who came to contrarian stances on various politically-charged subjects only after having been obliged for years to swallow and regurgitate the “conventional wisdom” in academic settings in order to get decent grades.

    When you’ve started out in the camp of the True Believers and find yourself wondering why their noise never succeeds in coinciding with reality – with the evidence of your senses and with the abstraction concepts you’ve arrived at by scrupulously critical reasoning – you emerge hellaciously familiar with the Cargo Cultists’ crapola while at the same time hating the high priests and their credulous, stupid acolytes.

    The reason I want to kick the “Liberals” in the teeth every time they mouth off is that I know pretty thoroughly just how malicious, duplicitous, hateful, and tyrannical they really are.

    After all, I was raised to become one of ‘em.

  5. Tucci, stare not too long into the abyss, look at the plank in thine eye. Pick your favorite wise-sounding quote.

    There are some conservatives that I fear just as much as the extreme liberals (the conservatives that the liberals think are the entirety of the conservatives who actually do want a theocratic system). Look at my tagline, I’m in a conservative haven and, I’ve found that conservatives are just as certain as anyone else.

    I’ve gotten endless comments about “Obama is a Muslim” and they are shocked when I said “so what if he is”. Similarly, people are shocked at my opposition to prayer in schools (I don’t want my kids praying to Loki, Buddha, Shiva, or Moroni) or apathy towards gay marriage (seriously, what is the big deal?). Even brief statements such as that get met with complete shock because they have never had to debate with anyone about what they believed.

    It makes me almost miss college. There we could all gang up and agree that the LaRouche PAC was crazy.

    • Writes benofhouston: “There are some conservatives that I fear just as much as the extreme liberals (the conservatives that the liberals think are the entirety of the conservatives who actually do want a theocratic system). Look at my tagline, I’m in a conservative haven and, I’ve found that conservatives are just as certain as anyone else.”

      Have I uttered one word in support of such “social” (i.e., religious whackjob) pseudoconservatives?

      To condemn the “Liberal” fascisti is emphatically not to praise the Nehemiah Scudder types. Fallacy of the false dilemma (“all you’re allowed is either this flaming maliciousness or that dog-futtering ignominy”).

      Look online for SF writer Orson Scott Card’s presentation titled “The Secular Humanist Revival Meeting,” which he used to give at science fiction conventions to much applause.

      Now, Card is a Mormon’s Mormon, and very much a “social” conservative. Hates the Magical Mystery Mulatto Mamzer like poison, but the reason he wants no prayer in the government educationalist gulags is his well-supported conclusion that politics degrades everything it screws with, and he conceives of religion as being of such value in people’s lives that he doesn’t want matters of personal conscience to be contaminated by politicians and bureaucrats sucking at the public trough.

      I recommend that you conceive of modern American “Liberals” as religious idiots. Their mental functions are not predicated upon honest observation of phenomena in the real world, or on abstract concepts derived in scrupulous accord with such valid information (see “scientific method” and “no frelkin’ clue whatsoever” anent the great AGW hooraw), but rather on beliefs held in the absence of – and in frank contravention of – objectively verifiable facts.

      Everything that scares you about the religious schmucks masquerading as “conservatives” is manifest – powerfully! – in the milk-and-water socialists passing themselves off as “Liberals.”

      Or is it “progressives” again this week?

  6. “The left implements speech and mind control because they cannot persuade on the issues. Silencing the opposition becomes their only recourse.” Tammy Bruce, The New Thought Police

    I encountered this when I worked for our local community college. The Poly Sci Prof was the de-facto speech and mind control officer and even the President and Board cowed to him.

  7. “The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.”– Robert A. Heinlein
    In order to control other people it is very helpful to create in them a climate of fear or guilt. Every “Jewish mother” knows this.
    Developing a sens of self-reliance, competence, and adaptability runs completely counter to this effort to train people to be weak and dependent.

  8. Quoting Dr. Thomas Sowell in his latest book, Intellectuals and Society: Revised and Expanded Edition, http://amzn.to/TAiZvC:
    “Ideologically… differences based on beliefs about facts, causation, human nature, character and distribution of knowledge, are ultimately questions about different perceptions of the real world, leading to hypotheses which can be tested empirically”
    It is this unwillingness or inability of Progressives to empirically test their hypotheses which drive me crazy!

  9. Sharon Hohlfeld

    When I was a liberal, I thought I was being a libertarian, till I found out that liberals do not want “Free Will”, they wanted power and control. I had believed that a woman had a right to choose, till my girlfriend told her story; her boyfriend took her for an abortion, then left her, she cried in my arms all night about ‘how she had killed her baby”. I believed that there were a three tier system, that you were rich, middle class, or poor, till I started working and had rich people help set and achieve goals, my poor friends never did that for me, nor could they. I believe I did not need to think about the taxes companies had to pay, till I set in the IRS office, trying to settle my bosses tax debt, after I achieved in settling that debt, everyone in our office received raises. Reading history, I have found that we have not progressed , human nature is that politicians will always want power, and they do this by propaganda. Ignorance is the biggest threat to the world.

    • “When I was a liberal, I thought I was being a libertarian….”

      I’d been introduced to libertarianism in science fiction fandom (where most people are libertarians, and the few socialists are left-overs – like the old Futurians – from the 1930s), but it didn’t “take” until I entered private practice and the day I sat down to write out the paychecks of my two employees.

      I got a good, hard look at just what the federal and state governments were compelling me to take away from my employees – people who depended on me as much as I depended on them – to send off to some parasitical sons of dogs in the pestholes of political power.

      Getting ripped off myself was something I’d had to suck up and suffer ever since I’d gotten my first “on the books” job as a teenager.

      But this was something else. The bastids had made me their tax collector.

      God damn!

      It’s one thing to get raped repeatedly. But to be compelled to hold somebody else down while they were getting forcibly screwed….

      That ought to be enough to light up any man of conscience and respect for the rights of his fellow human beings, right then, right there.

      It did the job for me.

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