Solving conflicts through debating differing points of view is called “the dialectic.” It was a method used by Socrates and written about by his student Plato, about debating and exchanging ideas while searching for the truth.
Young people today and, unfortunately, many of their teachers, do not seem to understand the idea that debating should be about a “search for truth” that may include points of truth from both sides of a debate.
And, therein lies the problem. In politics, for example, Liberals and progressives believe their views are right and true and that conservatives are simply wrong and evil. I mean, as the image indicates, the violent rioting at Berkeley in California on January 20th, 2017 showed today’s liberal thinking students couldn’t deal with change.
They had had the leader of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama, as their President for 8 years. And, given those 8 years had been during most of their growing up and maturing years, he had been a major part of their lives.
So, no, they weren’t rioting because of maltreatment of any kind. Rather, they were destroying property and rebelling simply because the electors in the U.S. chose a conservative, a Republican, to be president.
So, what is going on? Why do today’s students think that only their view of the world is valid?
One possible answer was put forward by a University of Notre Dame Professor in 2016. Patrick Deneen wrote an article entitled “Res Idiotica.” For example, he writes:
“Our education system excels at producing … self-contained selves whose only public commitment is an absence of commitment to a public, a common culture, a shared history. They are perfectly hollowed vessels, receptive and obedient, without any real obligations or devotions. They have been taught to care passionately about their indifference, and to denounce the presence of actual diversity that threatens the security of their cocoon.”
The key phrase in the last sentence of that quote is, of course, that they have been taught to “denounce the presence of actual diversity that threatens the security of their cocoon.” It is an amazing metaphor. We can see a caterpillar wrapped up and hidden away from the world, unable to break through its cocoon to become a matured, free flying butterfly.
Deneen seems to think the problem is because high school and university students are not being taught the liberal arts basics as they used to. That is likely true. However, I believe that the problem is also that, as we can see with the Berkeley riot, today’s students are not being taught how to handle opposing views. I mean, not only do university students do everything they can to stop anyone with a conservative viewpoint from speaking on campus but conservatives, like the Covington High School students, are physically attacked in Washington for just wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat.
So, while I agree with much of what Deneen writes, I believe the problem could be solved, not just by more liberal arts courses, but by teaching young people (from Grade 7 onward) how to debate ideas. No, not where one side wins and one side loses, but where differing points of view are accepted as valid — even if they don’t agree with them.
In my opinion, then, the crux of the matter is helping students understand what diversity of opinion really means. Only when that happens will they be able to break through their cocoon of bias and be free.
H/T and thanks to regular reader BTDT for sending along the link to Patrick Deneen’s article.