Now that I am a teacher myself, I know that nothing makes me happier than to hear one of my students say: "You know, I've been thinking, and what you said is completely wrong." My goal as an educator is not to create acquiescent little clones who bow their heads to my authority and repeat: "Whatever you say, Professor."
Dissent and discussion are crucial to promoting knowledge. They are also lots of fun. If everyone agrees about everything, then what is the point of talking? Somebody I love even prepares a list of controversial topics before she goes out to meet friends. She doesn't want to sit there, exchanging platitudes for hours. Instead, she hopes to promote engaging conversations where everyone expresses themselves freely and leaves thinking about important issues.
When I was 12, my father once heard me listen to something an important writer said on TV and saying "I agree with him completely." My father gave me a 4-hour speech on how wrong it is to agree with even the biggest authority before you've taken the time to reflect and form your own opinion. This is what it means to have your own worldview: you don't subscibe to the point of view of any authority figure, political party, or reference group. You reflect, form your point of view, exchange it with people, argue, debate, modify your opinion. I admire President Obama and I cried for joy when he was elected, but I disagree with about half of his decisions. I think Juan Goytisolo is the greatest writer of the XXth century, but I dislike his ideology in many ways. I admire Terry Eagleton as a critic but I keep talking about his profound theoretical and personal limitations.
When everybody agrees, intellectual life, thinking and generating new ideas simply die. When people start to self-censor for fear of appearing "intolerant," we find ourselves in a really sad situation where nobody dares to express themselves for fear of offending somebody's sensibilities. What is truly offensive, though, is not dissent, but rather faked agreement that's forced and, by its very nature, dishonest.
I'm very thankful to my readers who come here to express their opinions. Especially those who disagree and give me food for thought. V. who is a regular participant and also a friend - you always make me think, thank you for that. Three anonymous participants (you guys know who you are and I love you to bits). NancyP who is a very interesting person, I have never met you but I respect you deeply. My reader, the Brandeisian, thank you so much for giving me information I wouldn't otherwise get. Pretzelboy and Allison, you guys are interesting people, who are always informative and polite, I'm glad I got to talk to you. Thank you, my friends!
It is, however, deeply saddening to see how many people there are that dedicate a significant amount of time and effort to quashing any kind of dissent. I follow a number of progressive blogs that keep me informed on important issues so much better than TV news and print media (DailyKos, BitchPhD, and Femenisting are my favorite at this point).
However, engaging in a discussion on these sites is often difficult. There is always a group of well-meaning fanatics, who strive to promote what they see as the "party line." Anything they perceive as dissent is swiftly castigated. As I have recently discovered, they would even follow you to your own blog to scream insults at you. They wouldn't even attempt to read what you are actually saying before they start accusing you of every abomination under the sun. The saddest part is that they hide their censorship itch underneath the mantle of tolerance, acceptance, and political correctness.
In the discussion about Asexuality, I learned important things from smart, interesting, well-informed, and reasonable people. I have also learned that anger, censorhip, and the desire to quash dissent come in all shapes and sizes. Sadly, they often come from those who see themselves as liberal and feminist and who unfortunately fail to see how similar they are in their hatred of dissent and difference of opinion from the ostensibly (but in truth not really) dwindling McCain/Palin camp.
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