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April 24, 2004

The Philosophy of Higher Education

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

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Tech Central Station has published a lecture by John Kekes, regarding the orthodoxy of higher education and its effect on broader public policy and debate. It's a subject depressing to me, because I value education and value the truth, and I don't think that either one has much of a place on college campuses these days, based on the evidence I've seen. Here is the thesis of the lecture:

When did you last hear of anyone defending fundamentalist Christianity or the superiority of Western civilization? Who has been allowed to express the opinion on our campuses that homosexuality is a perversion, that there exist racial differences in intelligence, that women's place is in the home, that the Holocaust is a fiction, or that America is a force for the good in a corrupt world?

You may say that such opinions are justly stifled because their expression harms others. But if you thought that, you would be well-advised to think again. For if by harm you mean, narrowly, serious injury, such as murder, torture, or battery, then neither the opinions nor their expression harms others. And if by harm you mean, broadly, injury to the interest of the people affected, then you would have to be opposed to all laws and regulations which prohibit people from doing what they want or place burden on them that they do not wish to bear. You would, then, be committed to the absurdity of having to oppose laws about taxation, social security, immigration, and health care, since they injure the interests of those who are forced to pay for them. The truth of the matter is that the opinions stifled on our campuses run counter to a prevailing orthodoxy that abuses its power and prevents the expression of opinions it opposes.

This coercive stifling of opinion permeates daily life, not just our campuses. It is very hard to think of an area of life that is free of the exhortation of intrusive moralizing. We are told what food is right or wrong to eat; how we should treat our pets; what clothing to wear; how we should spend our after-tax income; how precisely we should phrase invitations for sex; what kind of bags we should carry our groceries in; when and where we are permitted to pray or smoke; what jokes we are allowed to tell; who should pick the fruit we buy at the supermarket; how we should invest our money; what chemicals we should use in our gardens; by what method of transportation we should go to work; how we should sort our garbage; what we ought to think about cross dressing, sex change operations, teenage sex, and pot smoking; we are forbidden to inquire after the age, marital status, drug use, or alcoholism of job applicants; we are liable to be accused of sexual abuse if we spank our children or hug our neighbor's; our 19 and 20-year olds are permitted to fight our wars, but they are not permitted to buy a beer; we are not supposed to say that people are crippled, stupid, mentally defective, fat, or ignorant; and we must not use words like "mankind," "statesman," or "He" when referring to God.

What makes this coercive moralizing even worse is the hypocritical double-talk by which it is presented. For the stifling of opinions is said to be required by toleration. Its defenders advocate toleration of discrimination in favor of minorities and women (but not against them); of obscenity that offends religious believers and patriots (but not African-Americans and Jews); of unions' spending large sums in support of political causes (but not corporations' doing the same); of pot smoking (but not cigarette smoking); of abortion (but not capital punishment); of the public lies of Clinton (but not of Nixon); of hate speech against fundamentalists (but not homosexuals); of sex education in elementary schools (but not prayer); of jobs open only to union members (but not private clubs open only to males); of lies about American imperialism (but not the Holocaust); of sacrilegious of language (but not of language that uses "he" to refer to all human beings); of scientific research into just about anything (except racial differences in intelligence); and so on and on. We are awash in this ocean of hypocrisy, lies, and falsifications.


Read it all.


Comments

It's a brilliant piece, isn't it? And I understand it was first delivered to a live audience of other academics. How I'd have loved to be a fly on the wall of that auditorium!

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto on April 26, 2004 05:38 PM
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Posted by jeff at April 24, 2004 12:00 AM

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