The Thoughtless Orthodoxy
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The Dissident, eh? So from what, exactly, are we dissenting?
We are dissenting from assumptions, prevalent on college campuses, that
breed unquestioned orthodoxies based on the “obviousness” of certain
truths. These truths’ alleged “obviousness” obscures the fact that even what
seems self-evident is, for all of that, still an idea. We protest that even in the
academic world, ideas are assigned a meager place because so many things
have come to seem obvious.
How did this happen?
When confronted with opposing theories about the world, all people
tend to resort to demonizing those with whom they disagree. After all, if our
opponent is not some kind of villain, but is instead motivated by what he says
he is motivated by—his ideas about the way the world is—then before disagreeing
with him, we would have to take seriously the evidence for his ideas.
And in the process, we might find out that our own evidence is faulty, and our
own ideas mistaken. Given the emotional stake we acquire in “our” ideas,
that’s the last thing we want to do.
It’s far more natural to discredit our opponents’ motives, as Walter
Lippmann points out in our credo—or else, to deny that what’s in dispute are
ideas at all. If, instead of coming up with ideas, what we (unlike our opponents)
do is directly perceive self-evident facts, then instead of having possibly
mistaken ideas about what the facts are, we would possess direct
perceptions of “the obvious.” Those who disagreed with us, then, would be
ignoring the obvious, which could only be the result of their stupidity. So
either our opponents are too unintelligent to see the world as it really is, or
they are too corrupt to admit what is plain for all to see.
What we propose in these pages is to present our ideas as ideas, and to
do so civilly. We hope you will find these ideas innovative and provocative,
since we also want virtually every article to take seriously some idea that is
widely considered un-obvious by our professors and our peers.
The conventional wisdoms challenged in these articles constitute many
of the political orthodoxies that now reign on campus. We believe that what
makes these orthodoxies worse than most is the basis of their acceptance.
People agree with these orthodoxies not because they have soberly evaluated
the alternatives, but because they have never been presented with really challenging
alternatives in the first place. These orthodoxies are so taken for
granted that they aren’t even visible as ideas that need to be evaluated at all.
The particular orthodoxies of the moment aside, it is the larger orthodoxy
that there is no campus orthodoxy—no set of “obvious truths” that,
viewed more skeptically, might seem like less than a set of self-evident
truths—from which we dissent.
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