The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises
Ecclesiastes 1:5 (NIV)
The sun is not coming up, tomorrow!
How many are threatened when someone says that?
I'll go out on a limb here and say - Few are.
We may wonder about the person making that claim. Are they joking? Are they insane? Did someone make another wild end of world prophesy - and it's tomorrow.
The sun will come up, tomorrow. We know it. And if it doesn't? Well, our universe will have undergone a cosmic disaster - such as the sun or the earth exploding - that no one will be left alive to care.
When our worldview is well grounded in facts and tested in reality, we do not feel threatened when it is challenged. But we may feel threatened if we really are not sure. And when unsure, we may fall into the trap of digging in our heels to defend our worldview even if that means silencing any dissenting view.
Our way is the right way. And everyone had better agree with us - or else!
In Robert Pirsig's book - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM), Chapter 13 makes this point. In the persona of Phaedrus (the title character in Plato's dialog between Socrates and Phaedrus), the author describes a time in 1950's Montana when extreme right wing politics was king. He likens the era to that of Dallas before the assassination of JFK.
In the late 1950s, the counterculture of the beatniks was emerging, soon to be followed by hippies, who would challenge the establishment and the military industrial complex. During this decade in transition, the state actively opposed and suppressed dissenting viewpoints, especially in the institutions. And this interference affected free speech as well as the integrity of its state colleges.
The Church of Reason
In his academic life, Phaedrus put forth the concept of the "Real University" or the "Church of Reason" - which was not constructed of brick and mortar - but a state of mind. The goal of these universities or churches was the search for truth.
Faith in reason was Phaedrus' passion as a college professor. And catching glimpses of the fanaticism of his former self, Persig admits he really felt insecure and had his doubts about his beliefs at this time. (It's a long story - so read the book.)
But this malady is not isolated to college professors. It spreads itself across many disciplines and philosophies. It is no mistakes that in religion and politics, we find the most egregious examples of intolerance. Hence, may come the advice, don't talk about religion or politics.
Why not? They are my favorite subjects!
Intolerance and Insecurity
In 1950s, Persig felt the blowback of the insecurity of the right wing. And, 60 years later, many feel the same kind of intolerance stemming from the insecurity of the left wing.
There are numerous examples in the media. Just check out the feeds in the news and comments in social media. Any dissenting point of view point, you can bet, is met with ad hominem attacks. The over-reaction to dissent is not to educate the dissenter. It is meant to intimidate, if not destroy a brand or character.
Political Correctness has evolved to an artful bullying technique to silence dissent and stifle free speech. [reference: Free Speech Codes on Campus: Political correctness run amok? | Fox News] And in recent news, the IRS scandals allege use this powerful arm of government to suppress the conservative point of view in the national dialog. [reference: Ex-DOJ Officials: IRS Scandal Symptom of Free Speech Suppression]
Where do we go from here?
The Real University
As I type, many graduation ceremonies have been celebrated in brick and mortar high schools and universities. And speakers offer their wisdom as students move on the university of life.
In a graduation speech made last year, Dr. Condoleezza Rice challenges the students to have an open mind and seek out dissenting positions of passionately held beliefs.
This point is made at time 3:20 in the clip below:
"As you search for your passion try different things
- try difficult things."
* Seek out people who are different than you are
* Let them challenge you and inspire you to grow
* Nothing wrong with holding your own passionate opinions
* When you feel absolutely sure you are right,
* find someone who disagrees with you
* they may have ideas worth considering, too
* Goal of education -
* Not an effective confidence in everything you know
* But a humble appreciation for everything you do not know
Dr. Rice has it right. She has some clear guidance as to how to avoid the trap of the insecurity of intolerance.
Seek those who challenge you. If you are secure in your worldview, those views will stand. If not, it's a lesson in the university of life. And most of all, it's a remedy for intolerance - intolerance fed on insecurity.
Again, I'm going out on a limb here, but I venture Phaedrus would approve.
Previous articles in the ZAMM series:
ZAMM (part 1) - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (2011)
ZAMM (part 2) - Journey through Life (2011)
ZAMM (part 3) - Chautauqua, then and now (2011)
ZAMM (part 4) - Ghosts (2011)
ZAMM (part 5) - Sheldon vs Penny (2012)
ZAMM (part 6) - Sloth, or just not caring ... (2012)
ZAMM (part 7) - Yes or No - Gotcha! (2012)
photo: everystockphoto.com - Thought I was born to endless night