Shying away from intellectual discourse only promotes intolerance and ignorance.
In today’s progressive world of social and philosophical change, one can get lost in the myriad of complex issues and ever-evolving viewpoints.
The internet constantly bombards us with thousands of videos, soundbites, and articles produced by college professors and students, mainstream media outlets, and teenagers in their basements who haven’t seen the light of day in weeks. This all contributes to our culture of information hyper-saturation, which makes it increasingly difficult for many to find their own voice and opinions in a sea of controversy.[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]It is this spirit of free speech and impassioned debate which should be a defining force in universities and the public sphere alike. But the contemporary trend has been in the opposite direction.[/pullquote]
This army of online bloggers and contributors can be quite a formidable force when united behind a common cause. However, the information being put forth often reflects in its inaccuracies how distant the writers actually are from the selected topic.
The sad fact of the matter is, many of these influential writers and speakers reject any idea of intellectual debate, and remain as intolerant of other opinions as the ideas they seek to condemn and destroy.
It’s a narrative of fighting supposed intolerance with more intolerance.
This narrative is militantly pursued among social media communities, on college campuses, and among a vast number of younger millennials seeking to make progressive change.
The idea of fighting an opinion which one doesn’t agree with by ignoring the problem or by hiding from the problem does absolutely nothing to confront the issue at hand. As opposed to intellectual discourse between two opposing parties, many are now opting to simply claim their right to “not be offended” and label the opposing side as bigots, racists, sexists, or any other of a plethora of buzzwords while ignoring factual information entirely.
The purpose of this piece is not to defend depraved people or their ideas from the criticism they deserve. Some positions are obviously and undoubtedly incorrect and immoral, and should be treated as such.
But, many positions being blocked out with a shield of buzzwords and supposed offense are logical and factual positions, deserving of intelligent debate.
In this country, the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech for all, giving anyone the liberty to field opinions or counter arguments. It is this spirit of free speech and impassioned debate which should be a defining force in universities and the public sphere alike. But the contemporary trend has been in the opposite direction.
Most notably, the “safe space” movement on college campuses all over the country has gained enormous momentum and continues to grow. As opposed to being legitimate opportunities for students to gain professional psychiatric or therapeutic help for stressful or traumatic experiences, these spaces have become a symbol for all those who would seek shelter from scary words or discussions in favor of ignorance and bigotry. This movement is promoting giving in to opposing viewpoints by making intelligent discussion and compromise a thing to be regarded as bad and harmful.
Many proponents of the safe space movement can’t seem to understand the difference between dissenting opinions and personal attacks. For instance, a March 2015 New York Times column by Judith Shulevitz entitled “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas” describes a Brown University incident. The University had organized a debate between prominent feminist Jessica Valenti and libertarian Wendy McElroy on the subject of campus sexual assault. Members of a resident campus sexual assault task force led by senior Katherine Byron objected to the debate on the grounds that the dissenting opinion could serve to “invalidate people’s experiences” and be “damaging.” This opposition prompted the University to offer a simultaneous talk on the role of culture in sexual assault, and student volunteers organized a “safe space” for anyone who was upset by the content of the debate.
People should be using the enormous resources at their disposal to confront ideas they find incorrect or distasteful, not to run away from them and claim offense without bothering to hear the other side’s argument. People on opposing sides of these issues are often good people with good intentions. They deserve a chance to be listened to respectfully and either swayed by logic and impassioned discourse or to be given a chance to sway one’s own views. All too often people would rather claim offense and demand that their institution shield them from any views that differ from their own. This growing idea that being offended entitles one to not be subjected to opposing viewpoints is simply ludicrous, and only serves to promote a culture of ignorance and intolerance.
Intellectual advancement has never been promoted without the exposure of ideas and beliefs from many different sources, and this trend of intolerance of different opinions will only continue to inhibit progressive discussion until it is countered by more outspoken critics of the movement.
The students of Brown University – and the students of Malvern Prep – should learn that engaging in intellectual debate is the only true way to combat incorrect information and promote positive change.