We need thoughtful views, expressed carefully
Middlebury appears to be an institution that values fairness. Sure, we talk about it constantly, so if one can infer its importance from the repetition, we appreciate it. Climate justice, reproductive justice, housing justice, environmental justice. But in order to have productive discussions about these topics, we (as students and citizens) need a sense of justice that is grounded in more than just a vague sense of “what feels right” or the values our society tells us. correct. The lack of a proven, thoughtful, and rigorous ethical framework for defending our convictions is a serious weakness.
Conservatives often view America’s elite colleges and universities as factories of what commentators have described as “woke Marxist culture warriors,” where administrations hope to produce a vanguard of left-wing extremists. To be fair, this is not completely Inaccurate accusation. Historically, universities have served as fertile ground for far-left movements such as Students for a Democratic Society, which in turn gave rise to the Weather Underground, a terrorist organization. Nowadays, Democratic Socialists for America finds some of their strongest support in colleges and universities, with hundreds of chapters across the country.
But this claim still misunderstands what is happening on American college campuses. While there is a small minority of students who can accurately be described as aspiring professional revolutionaries, from what I have seen at Middlebury, the vast majority of them are not. Living within a society characterized by the illusion of ideological uniformity like Middlebury’s can create a deep loyalty to certain values on the part of many, but this is not the same as forming a true believer.
Much of this is due to the nature of the contemporary campus. Most students go to university to get an education and get the “college experience.” They do no To turn into ideological crusaders. Whether inside or outside the classroom, students exist in a space dominated by leftist voices, concepts, norms, and expectations. A recent article by Shane Silverman reminded us how common this is. Within the Middlebury bubble, there is an illusion of structured uniformity through which we can see how certain political and intellectual views are not only accepted, but taken for granted. Occam’s Razor asks us to look for parsimony if we want to discover the truth. In this case, the simple fact is that most students become vaguely progressive because it is easy.
John Stuart Mill’s Essay “On Liberty“ He offers a provocative defense of near-absolute freedom of expression. One of his most important arguments is how censorship and monopoly of speech will come at the expense of the dominant party. Without an opponent to encourage rigorous debate, they lose the opportunity to think rigorously. Just as sharpening a knife requires a whetstone, sharpening an argument requires open discussion. No point of view has ever become more thoughtful or decided while being presented unopposed from the platform.
I fear that after not encountering any serious resistance to a supposedly consensus view for some time, people lose the ability to defend it effectively. Growing up in a (relatively) stable liberal democracy, it will take most people a second to organize a thoughtful defense of that system. I think this is the root of what some on the right call the culture of anger. Without the ability to express Why They think what they think, and people can quickly turn angry. I argue that this happens for the simple reason that when you build your identity on assumptions and they are questioned, you see yourself as being questioned. Without the practice of separating politics from identity, or even the practice of questioning one’s own assumptions, there will be no good outcome.
There are practical consequences to such a lack of ideological introspection. I saw recently Photo of a pro-Palestinian protest With a number of people who carried a banner reading, “Reproductive justice means a free Palestine.” I understand the multifaceted argument involved in a single struggle, but I don’t see how people can so easily bridge the gap of values and ideology that separates Western reproductive rights activists from Hamas and Fatah. Can most of those who chant such a slogan express what it means in practice? For those who can make such an argument effectively, I welcome the discussion. We need it, badly.
Although they do not dominate our campus space in the same way, the illusion of sameness makes campus conservatives intellectually lazy. I know that many right-wing college students are not interested in getting seriously involved in campus politics. With little opportunity for a serious discussion and fear of ostracism, why would they do it? This inevitably leaves space to be occupied by the radical fringe. The rest are happy to feed the anger machine by saying really ridiculous things, more for the thrill of glorious battle than for the reality of prosaic discourse.
Simply put, if we care about goodness (and thus the pursuit of justice – true justice) we must base it on something fundamental. Suppressing any alternative perspective with a thick blanket of dogma may create the illusion of established views, but it is just an illusion. Students know what they are supposed to think, but I fear that few have thought about why they are thinking those things. The tendency to stifle the messy and messy dialectical process required to produce a deeply considered perspective is not a strength. It’s weakness. Middlebury’s failure to educate students on how to express and defend their opinions and values politely and effectively will, in the long run, harm students, the institution, and our community. Without exposure to the best-researched versions of ideologies with which we disagree, the value of our organization deteriorates. However, students at these institutions suffer, because they are not receiving the best education, and will lack the knowledge of how to defend their concept of justice and change the minds of those who disagree with them. If the most educated and most devoted to justice in our society are unable to persuade others to agree with them, the society suffers: we live in a democracy, and reaffirming the doctrine sways no votes in Pennsylvania or Arizona. If you want to win rather than just feel morally superior, you need the tools to convince people that you are right.