Are you an "activist?" Then, you are always right. Being an activist is far superior to getting a degree. It offers a shortcut to certitude and righteousness that no BA will ever satisfy.
Episodes of upside-down understanding of free speech can be found more frequently on university campuses than anywhere else in the democratic world. The prevalence of "speech codes," the enforcement of various equity imperatives, the tacit limitations of debate, and of course (as Jonathan Kay noted in his Thursday piece, "Open Season on Christian social conservatism") the deliberate muzzling of, or contempt toward, traditional mainstream religious views: These are hallmarks of the modern enlightened campus.
So the example of Arun Smith — the "seventh year" human-rights major at Carleton University who tore down a free-speech bulletin board this week because he didn't like what his fellow students had to say about abortion and gay marriage — is less surprising than sad.
How can a person spend seven years in any university studying anything, let alone human rights, and arrive at so preposterous a position? Mr. Smith's views are not only wrong, they go to some space beyond mere error. How did he get to the point where contemptuously silencing others, placing himself at the center of moral determinations, fixing the label "hate speech," and tearing up property meets his understanding of being a sensitive, moral, guardian of human rights.
To attain this degree of confusion, Mr. Smith had to have help. It's not a mountain he could have climbed (even in seven years) alone. It can only have been through courses on racism and sexism and colonialism and all the other "isms" that so mesmerize the enlightened mind that he could ladder up to these exalted heights of folly.
Sure we can be silly on our own — all of us. But only modern universities can make us really silly. The label of campus activist produces, among these self-appointed cadres, a kind of totalism: Everyone on one side is bold and true; everyone on the other side comprises a band of bigots, haters and religionists.
While it offers a spurious emotional satisfaction to imagine oneself so right all the time, the attitude is finally an abandonment of mind, a closing down of critical faculties, and a surrender to ideological narcissism.
This is a hopelessly puerile way to view the world. While it offers a spurious emotional satisfaction to imagine oneself so right all the time, the attitude is finally an abandonment of mind, a closing down of critical faculties, and a surrender to ideological narcissism.
That so many on university campuses feel their ideas are so perfect that they may now go on crusade to shut or shout down the ideas and opinions of others, is a more than worrisome sign. Our higher education — at least in some of the humanities — is not what it should be.
This latest episode at Carlton is a reminder that some universities are in the business more of promoting attitudes than liberating young minds, and more concerned with fleeting "correctness" than lasting truth.
Rex Murphy, "A creature of his environment." National Post (January 26, 2013).
Reprinted with permission of the National Post.
Rex Murphy is host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup and contributes weekly TV essays on diverse topics to CBC TV's The National. (See Rex's TV commentaries). In addition, he writes book reviews, commentaries, and a weekly column for the National Post.
Rex Murphy was born near St. John's, Newfoundland, where he graduated from Memorial University. In l968, he went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. His primary interest is in language and English literature, but he also has a strong link with politics. His first book, Points of View, is described on Amazon: "With TV commentator and journalist Rex Murphy, it's easy to put a twist on the old parable: when he is good he is very very good, and when he's angry, he's awesome. Uncommonly dignified, relentlessly honest, unencumbered by de rigueur political correctness, and solidly grounded by his Newfoundland roots, Murphy is that rarest of TV types. He's an everyman who happens to be a Rhodes Scholar, and a personality treasured for his brain, not his looks...A cranky intellect, maybe, but an intellect just the same. It's Murphy's almost reluctant cynicism — delivered in language as sharp as shattered glass and aimed squarely at those in ivory towers — that makes Points of View a must-read."
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