The Importance of an Open Mind

On April 23, 2014, Charles Murray’s talk to Azusa Pacific University’s students and faculty was cancelled due to the concern that he would offend students of color. He was one of several speakers subject to student protest last spring — a list which also includes the more famous Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, and Hirsa Ali. The justification offered for each protest was that the speaker held discriminatory beliefs harmful to certain groups of people. It is important to note, though, that while speakers like Murray offended some, they would not have been invited to speak in the first place if the protesters were the consensus voice on the issue.

Brewing in the background of the protests were instances in which colleges and universities were banning Christian groups from campuses all over the country. InterVarsity’s Christian group at Vanderbilt University had their group recognition rescinded, and similar events occurred in April at Rollins College. Each Christian group’s membership policy allowed members to hail from any walk of life, but required leaders of these groups to hold Christian beliefs in order to maintain the group’s unique identity. This reasoning was found to be in violation of anti-discrimination policies at many schools, which resulted in the groups’ termination. This situation poses a bit of a quagmire for schools that choose to condemn these groups because colleges are in effect trying to promote tolerance of different viewpoints and beliefs by shutting down the very groups they aim to tolerate. As you might suspect, the specific hypocrisy in banning political speakers and peaceful Christian groups from a college campus reflects a larger hypocrisy in the political correctness movement.

Shortly after being uninvited from Azusa Pacific University, Charles Murray spoke at the CMC Athenaeum where he was received with little incident. Immediately following his speech, however, the CMC Forum published an article in which the author heavily criticized Murray not for his speech (in which Murray carefully bracketed questions of race from his discussion), but for previously authored works in which he makes potentially racist claims. The article I’m highlighting suggests an important general point: in cases where a speaker’s talk is dubiously objectionable the speaker should be the subject of thoughtful reasoned discussion. After all, the way we arrive at the truth is by carefully refining our views through reasoned discussion. Judging a speaker based solely on his or her past works precludes this kind of refining discussion. It is true that there are speakers who hold uncontroversially racist or harmful beliefs, like Klansmen and Holocaust-deniers. Discourse with these kinds of people usually is not productive. But in cases where a speaker endorses a controversial view, reasoned discourse in the form of a Q and A is the best way to get to the bottom of their (potentially) flawed ideology.

As freshmen, you are entering college with a mostly blank slate. Meaning, for the most part, nobody knows what your political leanings are, or what you personally believe. You’ll be tempted to identify yourself as a liberal or conservative right off the bat, but here’s my advice: don’t. Take advantage of your situation and try to stay away from the kind of ideological rigidity that drives people to attempt to silence voices on the other side of the issue.

Because of the massive number of different policies, which tend to be lumped under the taglines ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative,’ many people who identify strongly with one party or the other (i.e. partisans), prime themselves to think along party lines even about policies they have never heard of before. A recent study done by Emory University Psychologists demonstrated that partisans are more likely to discount any information that challenged their preexisting beliefs than nonpartisans. In other words, calling yourself a Republican or a Democrat will make you more likely to make decisions based on conservative or liberal rhetoric rather than sound reasons. Bearing in mind this psychological predisposition, keeping an open mind has a variety of benefits including:

1. It’ll make you smarter — Forcing yourself to think through thorny political issues with analytical rigor is great exercise for those brain muscles.

2. It’ll make you wiser — Since the main way we figure out whether our beliefs are true is by testing them against opposing beliefs, by discussing complex issues with others you’ll get a better idea of which views are true.

3. It’ll make your professors and classmates respect you more – This is true partly because you’ll be smarter and wiser for your efforts, but also because you’ll craft a reputation for yourself as a fair-minded, thoughtful person.

As a concluding note, I want to make it clear that I realize many of the examples I catalogued in the first part of this article are instances of liberals silencing conservatives. Of course it’s true that conservatives often do the same thing, with Fox News and conservative talk radio being two major culprits. The main reason that I focused on instances where liberals sought to silence conservative perspectives is that I tend to think conservatively. But engaging in discussions in which others objectively listened to my opinions and independently weighed the pros and cons of my beliefs was the crux of a fruitful and enlightening year for me at CMC. As we enter into what is bound to be an interesting election year, try to engage in thoughtful discussions with people who don’t believe the same things as you, and weigh the merits of their arguments independently of your partisan predispositions.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Image Cropped

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