How often do we hear that we must have an open forum for ideas, toleration for others, and appreciation for diversity? That’s the message I get from most of my classes. Yet the lack of foundation and the openness to all ideas makes it difficult to discern what you really believe.
Being able to discuss ideas freely is desirable, but the endless, aimless discussion can leave you unsure of the meaning of anything. Indefinite toleration of others is dangerous if they intend to kill you. As for diversity, sometimes too much diversity weakens the sense of unity a group of people might have. Like still clings to like, regardless of what human ideals are.
After trudging through a semester of philosophical talk in my Texts and Ideas class (and actually in my Daily Life in China class as well), I realize that you can’t just keep presenting different points of view. Although enlightening, each new perspective doesn’t add much to your understanding of life; you’ve probably heard some strand of that idea before. At some point there needs to be a standard; the judge must make a ruling in the trial. Not everyone will be happy, but at least there will be progress instead of a meandering stalemate.
Thus my Texts and Ideas professor stated that a goal of his class was to make his students evaluate their own beliefs and ideas. By reading Nietzsche, Plato, Freud, Kierkegaard, Augustine, and the Bible, we could deconstruct the facades of tradition to find what the human life ought to be like.
The New York Times philosophy column “The Stone” said as much. In the final post, moderator Simon Critchley revealed what the open dialogue — loved and lauded by liberal academia — is really about. And then you can see the hidden agenda of the “innocent” open dialogue:
“Dialogue is not the simple exchange of opinions, where I have my faith, my politics and my God and you have yours. That is parallel monologue. One of the goals of dialogue is to have our opinions rationally challenged in such a way that we might change our minds. True dialogue is changing one’s mind. I very much hope that readers of The Stone have had occasion to change their minds once or twice. Thanks to our contributors and to the wonderful, vast, vociferous and engaged audience of readers out there, I know I’ve changed my mind. Many times.”
It’s encouraging to hear the concession that, more than simply a presentation of ideas, the dialogue is an effort to make others change their minds. For too long society has gullibly believed that the dialogue is distinct from personal beliefs and has not realized how minds are actually being changed in the process. Yet for the same reason dialogues should be encouraged. The mind can be turned — towards or away from God — and change the future.