It’s no secret that the people living in the United States of America are becoming more polarized. People increasingly refuse to even entertain the possibility that their ideas may not be the only correct ideas. What makes this matter especially bad is that there appears to be an inverse correlation between polarization and disagreement. As a population becomes more polarized, it seems to become less willing to entertain disagreement:
To listen and understand; to question and disagree; to treat no proposition as sacred and no objection as impious; to be willing to entertain unpopular ideas and cultivate the habits of an open mind — this is what I was encouraged to do by my teachers at the University of Chicago.
It’s what used to be called a liberal education.
That habit was no longer being exercised much 30 years ago. And if you’ve followed the news from American campuses in recent years, things have become a lot worse.
According to a new survey from the Brookings Institution, a plurality of college students today — fully 44 percent — do not believe the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects so-called “hate speech,” when of course it absolutely does. More shockingly, a narrow majority of students — 51 percent — think it is “acceptable” for a student group to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree. An astonishing 20 percent also agree that it’s acceptable to use violence to prevent a speaker from speaking.
These attitudes are being made plain nearly every week on one college campus or another.
Rhetoric and debate are being replaced by religious zeal. An increasing number of Americans appear to be holding their beliefs as infallible scripture. If you disagree with their beliefs, you are seen as a heretic and may find yourself excommunicated or even attacked.
Discussion and debate were once considered a cornerstone of education. You were expected to hold your beliefs because evidence had lead you to them and you were therefore also expected to be able to defend your beliefs from critics using the art of debate. In modern times you are expected to have faith in the beliefs dictated to you by your “betters.” Since people who hold beliefs because they were told to do so have not actually researched their beliefs thoroughly, many people today are unable to debate and thus resort to other tactics, which are sometimes violent.
Admittedly, part of me looks forward to the televised death matches that are the logical conclusion of this polarization. However, I’m already weary of every minor disagreement resulting in screaming matches or physical fights.