“The horror of that moment,” the King went on, “I shall never never forget!”
“You will, though,” the Queen said, “if you don’t make a memorandum of it.”
Speech codes and changed attitudes about freedom of speech have created all of these negative feedback loops for expression and critical thinking. As you censor unpopular opinions you end up with classroom environments where individuals can’t really speak their minds. You also end up with students mostly talking to people they already agree with. The research on this is very strong—when you talk to people you already agree with, it thwarts development of critical thinking skills, and it makes people much more confident in what they already believe. It tends to make people more adamant, and exacerbates the serious problem of groupthink.
If we’ve legislated politeness, and legitimized the idea that disagreeing with somebody could potentially hurt his or her feelings, why bother to discuss anything? We have to teach people that debate and discussion lead to better ideas—they allow us to be more creative and to develop critical thinking skills. Moreover, the idea that meaningful, meaty debates over the most serious issues can actually be fun has been badly damaged.
…Putting this weird energy around disagreement, dissent, satire, parody, devil’s advocacies, or thought experimentation makes everything so dreadfully serious. Students no longer appreciate the idea that the professor whose seemingly strange attitudes about everything from sex to religion to politics could actually be presenting an opportunity to dive into something interesting—as opposed to saying something another person’s fragile ego can’t handle.
As essential and true as this is, I always thought it was obvious almost to the point of banality. And again, the only formative experience I had was taking debate class for two years in middle school, where we learned how to make the best argument possible independent of our personal feelings on the topic, and taking philosophy in community college, where we were taught that asking questions was a better path to truth than making bold assertions, and that there was nothing to fear about having to change our minds in light of better information.
Yet a decade of reading in the blogosphere has left me with the strong impression that, aside from literal libertarians, whom almost everyone hates, and my old pal Tauriq Moosa, whom many people seem to consider an incestuous, murderous, blasphemous rapist (it’s a wonder he has time to post at all, being that busy), most people are willing to disregard these principles whenever it’s convenient, which is often. One of the many things that cemented my utter disgust with the social justice brigade of online atheism was how the empty snark of “freeze peach” became a trendy meme among them.
Said it before, I’ll say it again: being offended is not a big deal. It can even be a good thing if you’re able to deflate your ego and relinquish your delusions of world-changing self-importance.