There seems to be an increasing trend toward vilifying the elements of reason. Using our intellect to gather and analyze information in order to form sound conclusions no longer appears to be a virtue. Neither does having meaningful dialogue.
Instead, there are those who would prefer to tell us what to think. Then, if we dare to disagree, we are called bigots and fools. The irony is in the hypocrisy.
After all, the definition of a bigot is not a person who holds a different opinion, but a person who is intolerant toward those holding different opinions. Similarly, being called a fool for not being a weak-minded follower makes no sense at all. The real foolishness is refusing to think for ourselves.
Since when is using your intelligence and reasoning something to be ashamed of? Since when has it become taboo to talk about the things that really matter? Yet, that seems to be what is coming in on the tide of political, cultural, and pluralistic correctness.
Consider, for example, the words of Eula Bliss*, a professor in the English Department at Northwestern University. “I think if you can’t talk about something, you can’t think about something,” she said. “And I’ve worked with students who could barely let themselves think, they were so scared of thinking the wrong thing.”
We seem to be able to dialogue about our food choices just fine. Most gluten-free vegans aren’t shy about saying so, and can even dine peacefully with an omnivore. Yet, on topics that are far more important than diet, we’ve somehow been bullied into keeping quiet.
I’ve observed this in those around me, and I’ve also observed this in myself. In fact, in recent conversations I have found myself being attentive to the other person’s viewpoint while remaining vague regarding my own. In one case, I found myself carefully deflecting an acquaintance’s assumption that I joined him in his outrage. In another, my response was so watered down that I was ashamed of my cowardice.
When I have ventured the courage to freely share my views, one of two things tends to happen. Either the other person responds with complete and utter silence, or they immediately rephrase a previous statement to minimize any appearance of dissent. Even among friends, it’s as if we are afraid to disagree with each other.
I’m not a historian, but I would venture that no evil ever befell a society simply for engaging in reason and discourse. In fact, the exact opposite is often true. It is by foregoing the intellectual discipline of critical thinking that we end up victims of tyranny and oppression.
Without reason and discourse, we are nothing more than pawns in someone else’s game. Perhaps when we awaken to that reality, we will begin to fear that more than we fear thinking or saying “the wrong thing”. That is my hope for myself, and that is my hope for us all.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” ― Galileo Galilei
*The full transcript of the conversation with Eula Bliss can be found at OnBeing.org.