Saturday, May 28, 2005

Conservatives are Irrational,

silly, and dangerous, and apparently so are the majority of American voters last year. At least, that's what this gentleman implies in a Star Tribune opinion piece. Based on this piece, Professor Oluoch should perhaps rethink his arguments somewhat. For example:
While individual faculty cannot do anything about the liberal-conservative ratio, they should be offended and dismayed by colleagues who grade arbitrarily. So the real free-speech concern is what opinions should be protected on our campuses.

Maybe because of the prevailing political climate in the country, more and more students are showing up on campuses with the idea that an opinion is an individual person's point of view or belief.

Opinions are not right and wrong; they don't need to be evaluated; they are people's positions and feelings about things. This is what the ordinary person believes about opinions -- usually without having given the matter much thought.

If you think about it for a moment, you'll see that we need to evaluate opinions. Public policy, religion, social conventions, even the law are touched by the opinions citizens have.

First. isn't this condescending? Compared to the good professor, the other (non-academic) citizens are 'ordinary' folk who don't understand that opinions can be correct or incorrect. Gee, thanks professor for educating me on that fact. I would (as a non-academic) never have figured that out on my own... . Oh, and opinions are constructed of points of view and belief? Astonishing! What else are they made of? Past-freshness-date Twinkies, drug-induced illusions, Marmite, radio transmissions from Alpha Centauri perhaps? Are yours made up of something else we've never heard of , professor?

It's also an amazing flash of insight provided when he informs us that opinion affects such obscure things as public policy,law, religion and social custom. Damn, I would never have thought of that! To think that I was just voting for the fun of it these past twenty years or so.

The good professor goes on to say:

In a democracy, the opinion of the majority wins the day. Imagine the horror if that majority is routinely in the habit of thinking uncritically. In such a case, the majority might very well express irrational views and make irrational choices -- mistakes its members would likely never notice because of their majority position as well as the like-mindedness of the politicans they'd likely elect.

This is how you explain the time in American history when the majority thought women should be barefoot and pregnant (and not agitate for the right to vote or work outside the home), that blacks should stay at the back of the bus, or even that gay people should not be legally married. An idea may still be ridiculous even if a lot of people embrace it.

So, not all opinions are equal. Some opinions have proved themselves over time to be dangerous, silly or irrational.

The task of higher education is to sift out which ones, and that of higher-education professionals is to courageously make judgments.

From the life of my favorite philosopher, Socrates, we learn that once an idea has been shown to be irrational, it is intellectually dishonest to maintain it as personal belief. If it turns out that the prevailing political ideologies do not fare well on college campuses, so much the worse for those ideologies.

These paragraphs are just amazingly wierd (or arrogant). He attempts to illustrate the problem of irrational majorities making irrational choices by highlighting three things: women's rights, racial equality and gay marriage. Interesting choices, those. Two of them were settled long ago, and if I was willing to take the time, I could doubtless find 'higher education professionals' of those times who made 'reasoned' arguments that women and black folk were inferior and did not merit full rights. (They were wrong, of course.) The use of the gay marriage in comparison with the other two is interesting because the professor treats it as a matter long settled,and opposition to the idea is irrational. Like same-sex marriage or not, in reality this is not true by any stretch of the imagination, as shown by last year's political campaigns. At best this treatment of same-sex marriage is presumptuious, at worst dishonest.

Professor Oluoch then deigns to let us know that the task of higher education professionals to determine which opinions are irrational, silly, or dangerous. and that those political ideologies which do not fare well on campus fail because they are dangerous, silly, and irrational. I would just point out that if those ideologies are not even seriously presented for evaluation, how the hell would he know?

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