The Battle of the Mind

by John Stevenson | 11/19/01 6:00am

Dartmouth College, like most educational institutions in the United States, is involved in a war over free thought. Much of progressive educational philosophy as well as postmodern ideals have abandoned the idea of "live free or die." The specific form of postmodern philosophy held here is group emotionalism -- which is commonly called "solidarity." If an opinion you hold is consistent with your group's feelings, then "solidarity" is served. If it conflicts with the group's consensus, then "solidarity" has been violated. But the ideas and the right to think of the individual must take primacy over any other rights and ideas. People in return should be held ethically and intellectually responsible for their ideas; we should regard them as thinking human beings. All ideas should be subject to scrutiny, but political correctness is an obstacle in the way of a community of rational thought and debate. By placing shackles on our minds and our ideas, society has released a weapon of massive brain-cell destruction.

The theology of political correctness is a dangerous enemy of the mind. If we hide behind empty sugarcoated words, the important issues cannot be debated. For example, whenever Islam and its more political form called Islamism by Daniel Pipes are discussed, people stop talking and start babbling. We are so afraid of "offending" someone. For example, some of the more controversial tenets of Islam were simply whitewashed by the panel "Is Islam to Blame?" in early October in the hope of portraying Islam as intrinsically and undeviatingly docile. Furthermore, when I asked the question, "What does the Koran say in respect to Christ and Christianity?" I was not adequately answered. Even I avoided raising certain contentious issues for fear of being labeled intolerant. All traditions, thoughts, opinions and ideas should be subjugated to the scrutiny of reason. Rational discussion and open debate are trials of fire. For thus, iron sharpens iron and wit sharpens wit.

Furthermore, Dartmouth College is second to none in the field of the liberal arts. If ideas cannot be discussed here with frankness and clarity, then where shall we discuss them? Where else is there a community of intellectuals in times such as these? UMass? Amherst? How can people learn if their means of communication are bound by absurd social conventions?

Some of the main arguments in favor of being politically correct are to protect sensitive individuals and to promote unity/harmony. As one of my friends, whom I'll call H.S., observed, "This principle (of protection) only serves to heighten the differences between people of different descent." By making "difference" a taboo issue, we in reality enhance its subconscious sensitivity, making it into forbidden fruit. Moreover, if unity/harmony is maintained by forsaking knowledge and truth, then I say: let there be forever war and contention, for without truth surely no one can exist. In times like these at Dartmouth, we need people of strong moral and intellectual character who will cease saying, "It seems to me ," "In my opinion " or "I think " and instead say, "It is ," "We can know some things for sure ," "I believe " and "I know " Let us not follow the path of medieval theologians and "Deny reason to make room for faith" or follow those who "deny reason to make room for peace."

Another argument in favor of political correctness is: we must understand that being overly cautious is better than being careless. Once the leash is loosened, things can escalate rapidly. What is to stop a neo-Nazi group from preaching another Holocaust? I simply respond that every human being is endowed with reason. Using freedom to perpetrate irrational and destructive ideas is a criminal act and a threat to society. It is only a crime, however, when there is a call for violence to underpin a belief. For example, it is legal, legitimate and moral for pro-lifers to protest at an abortion clinic. However, the minute someone begins to advocate the use of violence, they are criminals and have forfeited their right to free speech.

This is what needs to be done: we must forsake the philosophies which insist that such basic distinctions as "true versus false" or "right versus wrong" generate social conflict. We must understand that the cause of social strife is not the refusal of an individual to sacrifice his convictions to the group. Rather we must encourage individual, independent judgment and provide the factual knowledge and the reasoning skills that a rational mind requires. To stop people (referring to those who abuse free speech and free thought) from acting like animals, we must start regarding them as thinking human beings. This is a war for the mind and must be fought firmly lest all controversial ideas be trodden underfoot. "Think free or die."