When I was trudging through my high school years, one thing that kept me going was the vision of “higher” education — the belief that once I got to college, I would be surrounded by intellectuals engaged in lively debate and the exchange of ideas. Think of Plato’s “Symposium” except on a grander scale.
Then I got to Tulane University —the Harvard of the South, as they like to call themselves.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that college in 1973 was high school with more sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. People didn’t read Plato; they read Rolling Stone.
Sure, every once in a while I would get into an actual exchange of ideas that didn’t involve religious or political dogma, but more often than not my counterparts would stop the conversation at some point with a quizzical look upon their face, hold up their hands in frustration, and query me — “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
In other words, the free exchange of ideas on college campuses has always had a somewhat restrictive view of the word “free” — at least since the 1960s. You were free to condemn disgraced President Nixon, for instance, but not free to defend him. You were free to denounce the Vietnam War, but not free to justify it. You were free to praise affirmative action, but not free to question it.
Fast forward 40-plus years and freedom on college campuses has grown even more suffocatingly claustrophobic. Freedom today means the freedom to hear only what you want to hear and to say only what other people want you to say. In other words, freedom is another word for political correctness. The alignment of those two concepts is a perfect example of what George Orwell called “doublethink” — the ability to hold two completely opposite concepts in the brain at the same time without the ability to recognize that they are mutually exclusive.
Thus, college campuses today have become indoctrinators of ideology instead of incubators of ideas. Instead of welcoming debate between those with different ideas, professors and administrators have become protectors of left-wing orthodoxy against any challenge that might invite people to think for themselves. The examples are too numerous to recite, but you are all encouraged to do a Google news search for “free speech on campus” to find numerous examples of the opposite.
You probably heard of Melissa Click, the University of Missouri professor, who was caught on camera calling for “some muscle” to remove reporters from a protest site in 2015. That’s no surprise, but what was shocking is that the university later fired her instead of lauding her as a hero. I guess incitement to violence still goes too far.
At lots of college campuses though, it is considered perfectly acceptable to muscle out dissenting viewpoints and to silence speech. A recent example took place at Rutgers University last month when feminists and Black Lives Matter protesters took objection to a speech by that most scary of speakers — a gay Roman Catholic conservative.
Milo Yiannopoulos must have represented a threat to the “safe space” of the college-age adolescents who expect everyone to toe the line of political correctness. Yiannopoulos is a real-life version of Kris Kristofferson’s “The Pilgrim”: “He’s a walkin’ contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction.”
Yiannopoulos was invited to the New Jersey campus by Young Americans for Liberty to speak on “How the Progressive Left Is Destroying Education.” And right on schedule, the progressive left provided a perfect example of it by disrupting the event by smearing blood on their faces and shouting down Yiannopoulos, who was on the first stop of his “Dangerous Faggot Tour.” Dangerous indeed!
Not coincidentally, when Donald Trump scheduled a rally on the University of Illinois campus in Chicago Friday, it was canceled after hundreds of protesters infiltrated the pavilion and raised security concerns because of the potential for violence.
The protesters were jubilant and took to the streets, chanting “We stopped Trump!” No, you didn’t. You stopped free speech, and you stopped the free exchange of ideas, which is another way of saying you stopped people from learning, including yourself.
No surprise there. Our society doesn’t value education any more; it values the appearance of education. It values degrees and not discernment.
Too bad these protesters, many of whom are probably college students or college graduates, did not spend more time reading the great books. Then they might have stumbled upon this quote from Plato’s “Republic”:
“Our youth should be trained from the first in a stricter system, for if amusements become lawless, and the youths themselves become lawless, they can never grow up into well-conducted and virtuous citizens.”
If that is the sign of a noble republic, maybe it’s too late to make America great again. We shall see.