Core Decorum: Be offensive

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Illustration courtesy of Cecilia Lang.

Ah, the modern college campus. One would have a hard time contradicting the great Obi-Wan Kenobi, but I think that most of us can agree that he was very wrong when he identified Mos Eisley as, “[The most] wretched hive of scum and villainy” in the galaxy. 

It takes only a quick Google search for anyone to view the amount of political and social unrest which has become common across this nation’s colleges. Young activists on both sides of the political aisle, emboldened by their youth, passion and wokeness confront one another in screaming matches that have recently, and famously, been escalating into violence. 

One of the most notable instances of this violence, though it is not the most recent and is one example among many, can be seen in a video that went viral in Feb.  2019 showing a conservative student at UC Berkeley being punched in the face after being called a racist and a host of other expletives. 

This violence and political unrest on our college campuses have dominated discussions for the past few years, and few have been able to identify a cause or offer a universal solution. 

What makes solving this problem particularly hard is the fact that identifying a cause for this problem is typically linked to the identifier’s political persuasions. Leftists tend to believe that this violence is sometimes a justifiable reaction to the evils of racist or otherwise bigoted opinions that pose great threats to humanity.The right wing tends to think that this violence proves their despotic suspicions of the left. 

Obviously, these two identifications cannot possibly coexist within any attempt to end violence; these two identifications have and will continue to serve as a reason for each side to continue doubling down on their previously adopted opinions. 

No, if we are to solve this problem, I believe we must determine the cause for these extreme reactions instead of a cause for the differences of opinion. 

These showdowns on college campuses look less and less like political disagreements or educated debates, and more and more like the clashing of warring tribes, each more sure of the other’s evil than the other. 

As most people know, tribalism and the tendency to vilify the other is an inherently flawed and uncomplicated mindset. “Political polarization” is a term thrown around a lot to describe this type of political tribalism, but it might be more accurate to say  instead of being politically polarized, people today are being intellectually suffocated and emotionally swaddled. 

The average college student of modernity has grown up in a protective and politically homogeneous household and community and has received an education in a place where openly political conversations are often discouraged to prevent  conflict. 

Many modern college students were never given decent exposure to dealing with disagreement, conflict or training to rationalize their own and others’ positions on any given issue. 

In short, people just don’t know how to deal with being offended. 

We should not be surprised that violence is now almost part and parcel with political dissension among young people. Those who were never taught how to have a disagreement with someone are bound to be dogmatic and tribal in any disagreement they have. 

Then, what might the solution be to this lack of Socratic savvy in our modern age? 

It’s simple. Be as free in your thoughts as you can, and give as little care to the offensiveness of your speech as is prudent. 

Certainly exercise good judgment in all that you say, and avoid becoming a troll or a provocateur, but do not restrict yourself from saying anything that you honestly, and with good reason, believe.

Censoring yourself to spare others’ feelings, aside from being dishonest, robs everyone around you from the chance to be intellectually challenged and bettered by you. Who cares if what you say ends up being offensive to someone? Dr. Jordan Peterson wisely points out in his interview with Kathy Newman that, “In order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive.”

Be offensive if that’s what it takes to be genuine. Maybe your offensive opinions are wrong and ought to be changed. Sharing them and testing them will help you discover this. 

This continual testing, refining and perfecting of opinions is hard, and part of the struggle of this proper thinking is the possibility that you will offend someone else or be offended by them, but that is what it takes to be a truly genuine thinker. 

Be offensive. Ruffle feathers and challenge that which you think is wrong. Even if you’re wrong, you’ll never know until you throw your ideas out there and have them challenged. 

We ought to learn something from Søren Kierkegaard’s sage saying, “I can compel no man to agree with my opinions, but at least I can compel him to have an opinion.”

This encouragement to think and develop opinions honestly is exactly the point of being honest and genuine in thought and speech. It is this type of challenge that, if done without political conniving, will force those who are typically violent and tribal in their political disagreements to seriously think about the opinions that they have adopted, thereby bettering us all.

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