It isn’t unusual to hear people reminiscing over times when certain aspects of society were in better condition than they now are, discussing in longing tones of the nigh mythological good old days. Of course, if you were to hear the phrase being used by a seventeen year old, you might be excused for expressing incredulity. After all, how much could such a person have known of past times to miss them?
Yet I do miss them, and for my own reasons. I have lately been watching YouTube, though not the usual variety of channels. To my dreadful horror, my tastes are growing what might even be called sophisticated, one of the major symptoms of growing up. I now find it more fascinating to watch, or rather listen to, the likes of Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell; although I must admit there are none like them.
Although my initial interest was in what they spoke about, my attention began to drift, largely aided by a stark contrast with contemporary styles of discussion, to focus on how they spoke. And when I noticed their manner of speaking, it seemed to bewilder me that I hadn’t noticed it the first time, for it was indeed something extremely alien to what I normally encounter. I would not be astonished if you gawk at me with cynicism, yet I swear it is true. In those times, people with opposing views expressed them respectfully.
Take a moment to absorb that. A respectful exchange of opposing views? Oh my, those things are right next to unicorn invasions in their probability of occurring.
I do not know whether this was a common place phenomenon in that era, or only adopted by economists, but I do wish that I could see that today. I’ve often quoted J.S Mill on this, and will likely continue to do so in the foreseeable future, “It is only through a conflict of opposing views that the truth emerges.”
If opposing views continue to be treated as they are today, then the future indeed looks bleak. The attempt at stagnation of knowledge is twofold.
On one hand, there is a blatant censorship of thought taking place in the form of political correctness, which is, at its core, the belief that what people perceive you to have meant is more relevant than what you actually meant. That it is your responsibility to avoid offending, rather than the responsibility of others to not take offense. This view appears to overlook that offense is essentially an emotion, or more precisely, a whine. An optimistic person can be happy in dire situations, and those who wish to will be offended to not matter what the intent of the remark. A more pragmatic approach will be to encourage those suffering from ‘I’m offended’ to toughen their skin. Sticks and stones, my friends, sticks and stones.
On the other hand, while views of minority groups are being protected, other views are being vehemently opposed. In college campuses, there is a growing trend of protests, especially against conservative speakers, and attempts to stifle views that differ from those of minority groups. It is the worst possible manifestation of diversity that I could imagine where diversity of color, gender, and sexual orientation has gained a seemingly insurmountable precedence over diversity of thought.
Many protect such growing trends under the guise of tolerance, yet this is anything but. Tolerance is not isolation of ideas, but rather acceptance of their existence. And it is only when you acknowledge existence of ideas that you can counter them, so to claim criticisms as not conducive to tolerance is ludicrous. In fact, the best possible means of tolerance and even integration of ideas is through criticisms, through an exposure to other ideas.